Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and winner of three, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button didn't exactly resonate with me strongly the first time I saw it. I certainly couldn't question that it's an elegantly crafted film from director David Fincher, who has a knack for assembling rich tapestries of story, and that the visual effects are exceptional. But there was something about the golden-hued themes of love and loss that felt too familiar for it to make the kind of bustling impact that the eventual Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, had. Five months and another viewing later, my admiration has grown a lot for the film, and I fully expect it to achieve classic status in the future.
Eric Roth’s screenplay is an excellent further exposition of a (quite) short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a piece that I loved the first time I read it, but did not exactly seem like the ideal candidate for a film adaptation. Grounding the film in the present of Hurricane Katrina-era New Orleans, Roth does wonders with the framework of a man who is born old and grows young, living through a number of historical events along the way.
The way the film references cultural touchstones like NASA missions and The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show does recall Roth’s previous film Forrest Gump, and the comparison feels a bit inevitable, but Benjamin Button’s focus is more personal and more precise. Rather than bringing up these events for comical or dramatic effect, they are simply included to amplify the story of a man passing through time in the opposite way of everyone else, but affected in many of the same ways as everyone else. Benjamin must learn to accept the realities of love and loss like anyone else – the circumstances surrounding it may be different, but the outcome is utterly familiar.