Making the Grades
Some people are born with an old spirit, wise and settled beyond their years. But Benjamin Button is just born old. The face of the newborn is one that only a mother can love, and before she (Joeanna Sayler) dies from childbirth his mother makes her husband promise to find a place in the world for their son.
But Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) can’t abide the sight of his wrinkled, arthritic offspring. When his plans to throw the child in the river are impeded by the presence of a police officer on the dock, Thomas finds a porch to deposit the baby on. Whether by design or not, it happens to be a home for the elderly. Fortunately, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a compassionate Black caregiver who looks after the aging residents, finds the abandoned child, takes him in, and raises him as her own.
From the day of his arrival at the seniors’ hospice, Benjamin (Brad Pitt) relates to the aches and pains of the tenants. However, he also knows he’s different from the other house occupants and Queenie never lets him forget it. Growing stronger and more agile with time, Benjamin’s body may look old but he has a childlike curiosity and is intrigued by the young granddaughter of one of the women in the care center.
Despite their exterior age differences, Benjamin and the redheaded Daisy (Elle Fanning), become good friends. They continue to meet through the years as the now grown Daisy (Cate Blanchett) dances on stages around the world as a ballerina. Meanwhile Benjamin’s buddy takes the old-looking but adolescent-minded boy into a seedy brothel where he introduces him to a bevy of prostitutes and the effects of alcohol.
The passage of time in the movie is marked by real historical events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, (which finds Benjamin drawn into a bloody and deadly encounter with enemy fire), the debut of the Beatles and the launching of a rocket from the Kennedy Space Center. Even the story’s narrator, Daisy’s daughter (Julie Ormond), reads from Benjamin’s journal as Hurricane Katrina bears down on the Gulf coast.
The technical effects and make-up used to age these actors, along with strong performances by secondary cast members, might be worth the price of tickets alone. However despite these artistic accomplishments, frequent liaisons (including a naked encounter on the beach) with numerous sexual partners all happen without consequence and rarely with a resulting pregnancy. Profanities, including a couple of strong sexual expletives, also mar the script. As well, a series of unnecessary scenes draw the film’s runtime to nearly three hours.
Crossing generational boundaries, the film focuses on love and the ageless attraction between the maturing Daisy and the ever-younger Benjamin. Yet despite the strength of their unusual relationship, the onscreen activities of these two characters, who consummate their love in the “middle” of their lives, make it hard to recommend The Curious Case of Benjamin as a strong option for family entertainment.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
How do filmmakers depict Benjamin’s youthfulness even when he is an old man? How does his character change over time?
What impact does Queenie have on those that she cares for? How does her attitude influence Benjamin’s feelings about his own life experience?