Prior to seeing this movie, I was already somewhat enchanted with it, because Brad Pitt is in it, and I have enjoyed his work since first seeing him in "Thelma and Louise." After observing his talents in various other movies, including "Seven Years in Tibet," "Fight Club," "Babel" and "The Mexican," and because Cate Blanchett is one of our best living actresses, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of America's best writers ever, how could "Benjamin Button" NOT be good?
Well, it was not good. It was great. It took one of the top ten spots in my mind of "Best Movies Ever" ranking with "Gone With the Wind," "Little Big Man" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
The tale of Benjamin Button is narrated in the voice of Brad Pitt as his entries in a journal that Daisy's daughter (Julia Ormond) reads to her mother who is dying in a hospital room in New Orleans during a hurricane. It's a period piece, wonderfully directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club" and "Se7en").
Brad Pitt plays the son of a woman who dies in childbirth in 1918 on the day the First World War has ended. Benjamin's father is so grief-stricken by the death of his wife and horrified by the sight of his son who looks like a shriveled old man, that Benjamin almost does not make it beyond the first few minutes of the movie. A police officer shows up just as Mr. Button is about to throw his infant son into the river. Mr. Button darts off, clutching the baby whose life is spared due to "Plan B," which entails leaving the infant in a bundle at the foot of a staircase leading up to a senior citizens home where Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a proud Black woman, is the proprietess.
Queenie's boyfriend, Tizzy, trips on the bundle and is aghast when the blanket is peeled back to reveal the baby's unusual features. His immediate impulse is to take the baby to the police. Queenie gasps at the sight, too, but determines that "this child is special" and makes room for him in her home.
And so Benjamin Button begins his life as a little old man who appears to be in his 80's. But he is surrounded by several seniors who are all on their way to the "next plane" and he enjoys a comfortable "childhood." As the years pass, so, too, do the people, eliciting this observation from Benjamin: "I was thinking how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is." But before Benjamin's friends die, they bestow information or talents that Benjamin will be able to use in his life which appears to be going in the opposite direction. For instance, for several years he is a shrunken bald man relegated to a wheelchair. As time goes on, his hair grows out, and he learns to walk. One lady who boards at Queenie's teaches Benjamin to play the piano. Tizzy has come to accept and love Queenie's "son" and teaches him about Shakespeare.
Another boarder at Queenie's is a woman with a grandchild named "Daisy." It is while Benjamin is around seven that he and Daisy become fast friends. They flow and ebb in and out of each other's lives for the next several decades. Daisy becomes a woman of the world, a ballet dancer of promising talent. Her career is cut short during an interesting segment that shows how if only one of many links in a chain of circumstances had been altered, Daisy would not have been in a car accident that ruined her leg for dancing.
At seventeen Benjamin feels it is time to go and make his way in the world. He becomes second mate on a tug boat, learns about alcohol and women, and the value of money. He has a brief but strong affair with a married woman named Elisabeth (Tilda Swinton) who as a girl almost swam the English Channel but stopped two miles short. She seems wistful and angry about it, much the way she feels about her relationship with her husband. One day Benjamin finds a note simply saying "It was nice to have met you." The loose end of Elisabeth is tied later when Daisy and Benjamin have entered the period when they are both around the same age and madly in love with each other. A television set presents news of a woman who in her sixties has finally swum the English Channel - Elisabeth. Benjamin notes this in the corner of his eye and flashes a smile as Daisy pays no mind to the TV.
It is the nature of man and woman to feel that today will last forever, but in the case of Benjamin and Daisy, their window of fun and frivolity is shorter than it is for most couples. She continues to age while he becomes even younger. In possibly the most poignant scene of the movie, Daisy asks Benjamin, "Would you still love me if I were old and saggy?" He responds, "Would you still love ME if I were young and had acne? When I'm afraid of what's under the bed? Or if I end up wetting the bed?"
When Daisy becomes pregnant and bears the daughter of Benjamin, he realizes that he cannot be the father that the girl will need, and after making financial provisions for his wife and daughter, using the inheritance from his father, he rides away on a motorcycle, in hopes that Daisy will find a worthy man to father his little girl.
I don't want to give too much away, except to say that this film touches on so many issues that are important to us - the relationship between a father and his son, between a mother and daughter, between a man and a woman; the importance of true love, the need for adventure and the requirement to undertake adventure before you are too old; the value of communicating your feelings and of not judging. Even with its long running time (166 minutes) it never lags. Watching Benjamin grow young as all the other characters grew old was truly amazing ; kudos to the special effects and make-up people.
I've read a few reviews of this movie by critics who say that it's magical but not magical enough, that it's dense but yet too airy, that it's everything F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted it to be but it's gumpier than "Forrest Gump." Those reviews are filtered, I'm afraid, through people who look for something to criticize.
As my friend Lori said, "I LOVE this movie. If you wanted to pop it into the DVD player right now, I would sit down and watch it with you all over again."