Hidden Ideas in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Genre: fantasy, epic drama
Year of production: 2008
Director: David Fincher
Actors: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng, Tarazhi Henson
tagline: “I was born under strange circumstances”
Awards and nominations: “Oscar” 2009 for the best work of artists and make-up artists, the best special effects. 2009 Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and Best Supporting Actor (Taraji Henson).
The meaning of the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is in the constant interaction of people and time. Brad Pitt played a unique person who was born a very old man and then grows younger over the years. The film by David Fincher, based on the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells about the importance of every moment in life and the fact that there is no place for accidents in it.
The film was shot on the principle of “story within a story”, when the main action is the memories of the protagonist. The plot begins in a hospital room where Daisy (Cate Blanchett), an old and obviously very sick woman, is lying on the bed. Next to her is her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond), who is trying to ease the last days of a loved one. And suddenly the old woman begins to talk about how in 1918 a unique clock was installed at the railway station in New Orleans.
Frame from the film.
At first, the viewer may decide that this is an accidental delirium of a dying old woman, but this clock is the main symbol of the entire film, a symbol of time, before which nothing has power. Their creator – the watchmaker Mr. Gatto – made the clock go backwards. So he decided to “deceive” the course of time, defeat death, return from the war all those who died on it, including his own son. It is with the “wrong” running time on the clock that the main plot of the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” begins.
On the day the First World War ends, a son is born in the family of button factory owner Thomas Button (Jason Fleming). His wife dies immediately after giving birth, the inconsolable father takes his child in his arms and moves away in horror. The boy was born with a terrible deformity – he looks like an ancient old man. A man in a fit of despair and anger grabs the baby, runs into one of the alleys and leaves the child on the porch of a large house.
There he is found by a young black woman named Queenie (Taraji Henson). It turns out that this is a nursing home, where an unusual old child, it would seem, is the place. The kind girl Queenie, unable to give birth to her child, adopts a foundling, giving him the name Benjamin. One of the guests of the house has a granddaughter, Daisy. These two immediately realize that they are kindred spirits. They develop a friendship that deepens over the years.
“Young” Benjamin Button in a nursing home. Frame from the film.
Benjamin experiences a transformation over time. He gets younger over the years, which pretty much surprises the permanent residents of the house. One day he meets his own father, but then he still does not know about it.
Then, by pure chance, the protagonist finds himself on board a sea tug, where he is hired as an assistant. There he meets Captain Mike Clark (Jared Harris), who spent his whole life at sea, but always dreamed of becoming an artist and covered his own body with drawings.
Together with the team of Captain Clark, Benjamin participates in the Second World War, comes under fire. The ending of the episode is tragic: he remains one of the few survivors on the ship. After the tragedy, the main character settles in Russia, at the Winter Palace Hotel. There he meets an amazing woman named Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton). Benjamin and Elizabeth spend their nights having long conversations, they reveal their secrets to each other and realize how close they are in spirit.
The woman admits that once in her youth she made an attempt to swim across the English Channel. But she could not fight the storm and the rain, she got tired and gave up, not having reached her goal only two miles. Elizabeth became the first true love of the protagonist. When they parted, he returned home.
Benjamin and Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett. Frame from the film.
He had grown so young that Daisy, when she arrived, barely recognized him. Old friends are happy to meet, but after spending time together, they realize that they can no longer be as free and open with each other as before.
Benjamin meets his father again. He invites him to a restaurant and confesses who he is. He tells the story of his birth and asks for forgiveness for his act.
The businessman admits that he is mortally ill and wants to leave his business to him – his son. From that moment on, Benjamin learns his real name – Button. Although not immediately, he forgives his father.
He takes him to the ocean coast, where they meet the dawn together. Before his death, Benjamin’s father says words that have a hidden meaning: “You can be angry that everything went this way and not otherwise. You can swear, curse fate. But when you realize that the end is near, you just need to accept it.
Once again, Daisy appears in Benjamin’s life after a terrible tragedy. Hit by a car, she ends up in the hospital with broken legs. Not wanting to be an object of pity, she drives her beloved away. Then a year later, fate brought them together again. And this time they decided not to part again.
Their romance was deep, full of sincerity and passion. But when Daisy announced her pregnancy, Benjamin got scared. He was happy with the birth of his daughter, but he was afraid that he would not be able to become a good father to her. At this point, the narrator’s daughter Caroline realizes that it is about her and that Benjamin Button is her father. After the baby was one year old, he sold all his property, valuables, opened a bank account in the name of Daisy and disappeared from their lives.
The woman was already thinking that she would never see him, when suddenly the policeman brought a boy to her, who had a diary in his backpack with her address and name. Daisy immediately knew it was Benjamin and took custody of him. She watched him grow younger before her eyes, forgetting how to walk, how to talk. At the end of the film, having turned into a baby, he died in the arms of his beloved. The cycle of life has closed, the end has overtaken a man who, having turned back time, could not defeat him.
Frame from the film.
The hospital where the main character Daisy dies is overtaken by Hurricane Katrina. The city is flooded. The final shots show the same unique station clock, which was dismantled and put into the basement. They gradually sink under the water, but still continue to go back.
The meaning of the ending of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is that time cannot be conquered. No matter how a person is born, one end awaits everyone. This is what Fitzgerald himself spoke about – we will all die, and time will continue its course, and so will eternity.
Frame from the film.
The meaning of the film
In this deep picture, there are several meanings to be analyzed at once. The main thing is that time is eternal, unshakable, it cannot be defeated. It will always overtake and take its toll. Even if a person is at first an old man, and then becomes younger, this does not mean that he has conquered death. But that’s not all that Francis Fitzgerald and David Fincher wanted to say.
Time should not be an obstacle to dreams. In life, it is important to do what you have in mind, and for this there is no concept of “too late”.
So Captain Mike, who from childhood was driven into the idea that he could not be an artist, decides to become one. He begins to draw on his body and is proud that he is doing what he loves.
Jared Harris played the role of Captain Mike Clark. Frame from the film.
Elizabeth, already in years, decides to fulfill her dream and swim across the English Channel. And Benjamin’s father, although late, confesses his deed and repents before his son, relieving his soul.
The key to the meaning is simple – it’s never too late to do what you really want. Time is not a barrier, and age is just numbers. The explanation of the meaning of the film is also that there are no accidents in life. The idea is simple: all events are invisibly connected, even the smallest ones.
This idea can be seen in the scene where Daisy is hit by a taxi. If the girl’s shoelace hadn’t broken, the man had set the alarm five minutes early, Daisy hadn’t lingered on the stairs, things might have gone differently. But it happened that way, because that’s how it had to be. And the old man, who was struck by lightning seven times, also understands that this was not an accident. So “God let me know that we should appreciate every chance given by life.”
What is the difference between Fitzgerald’s story and Fincher’s movie plot? In the story, the protagonist was born in 1860. He is a tall, bearded old man who everyone treats like a toddler. He is not thrown into a shelter, he lives with his family and eventually inherits the business of his father, a hardware merchant. He also gets younger with age, goes to Harvard in mid-life, and then dies in infancy. Fincher used the main idea, but added his interpretation, new characters, his own explanation of the ending. He “wove” the plot with a deep philosophical meaning. Why is Benjamin thrown into a nursing home? Initially, Benjamin’s father wanted to throw him into the river, but then he began to run away from the policeman and left the baby at the first house he came across. The nursing home turned out to be the perfect place for Benjamin. Being among the elderly, he felt happy. He liked the peace and quiet of this house, people who are no longer in a hurry, do not want to prove anything to anyone, do not fight for anything. They just live and wait in the wings, not resisting the passage of time. What role did Elizabeth play in the hero’s life? The Englishwoman Elizabeth became Benjamin’s first adult love. If you notice, actresses Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett are similar. Perhaps David Fincher chose the heroines so not by chance. Benjamin saw in Elizabeth the love of his childhood Daisy, with her he opened up spiritually. Elizabeth also showed him an example of fortitude, fulfilling her dream and swimming across the English Channel, despite her advanced age. What movies are similar to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? There are several similar films where the metamorphoses of time become the main idea. Here are the most famous of them:
1. “Tenet”, 2020. The film by Christopher Nolan tells about the CIA agent Protagonist, who is trying to prevent the worst tragedies of mankind with the help of time reversal – a phenomenon in which the hands of the clock go back.
2. The Age of Adaline, 2015. The film tells about a girl who, after drowning in icy water and being struck by lightning, stopped aging. She is forced to change fake passports every 10 years and move to a new place. Having experienced great love, after many years she meets her lover, who learns her secret.
3. “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, 2008. The protagonist of the film, Henry, suffers from a rare disease – he has a time travel syndrome. His wife Claire never knows when he will disappear again and how he will appear before her once again.
4. “Youth without youth”, 2007. A film about a professor who, tired of fighting with time, decides to commit suicide. But suddenly lightning strikes him, and he becomes young again. And now he is forced to hide from the Nazis, who are eager to use his phenomenon for their own purposes.