The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Film Analysis

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: a film about time, memory and love

The film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, released at the end of 2008, was a great and well-deserved success, but few people know that the story of a life lived in the opposite direction attracted other directors, except for D. Fincher. The artistic possibilities and philosophical meaning inherent in the story of the same name by Francis Scott Fitzgerald turned out to be so promising that Spielberg himself became interested in him back in the 1990s, and Tom Cruise and John Travolta tried on the role of Button. Fincher invited Brad Pitt to the main role, and the film’s screenwriters – E. Roth and R. Swicord – have strayed far from the literary principle.
The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot

What is the difference between a story and a movie?

The scriptwriters changed, first of all, the timing of the action: Fitzgerald’s Benjamin was born in 1860. The newborn looks different too: in the story it is not an old-looking and sickly infant, but a tall bearded old man who lives in the Button family and who is treated like a child. After 20 years, he becomes a companion to his father, a wholesale ironmonger, falls in love with the general’s daughter and marries her. When Benjamin’s son grew up, he handed the family business into his hands, and he himself fulfilled his old dream – he went to study at Harvard. The story ends the same way as the film – turned into a baby Benjamin eventually falls asleep forever. Neither Queenie, nor Daisy, nor Caroline (as well as other significant characters in the film) are in the story.

Thus, we can say that Fincher took the idea from Fitzgerald, greatly reworking the plot. If in the story satirical elements and criticism of the contemporary writer of society are vividly expressed, then the film touches on completely different topics, and its atmosphere can be called lyrical or dramatic, but in no way satirical.

What’s the point of the movie?

“The Mysterious Story of Benjamin Button” is, first of all, reflections on the meaning of life through the prism of the relationship between man and Time. Time is killing us, bringing us closer to death, regardless of whether we were born babies or, like the hero of the film, by chance we started our life as a deep old man. Time cannot be stopped, it is merciless. But it – Time – gives us the opportunity to feel and understand the value of every moment. Life is a great happiness in itself, and no matter how old you are: there are always opportunities to enjoy being.
The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot
Time is opposed by memory – that which forms our “I” and allows us to resurrect long-gone people and events. Only memory can turn back time, and that is why memories take up so much space in the film.

At the same time, the theme of Time is revealed in another aspect – age. The scenes where young Benjamin plays with Daisy in the guise of a deep old man, or his romance with Elizabeth, directly says that age is just numbers, and that youth or old age are not so much chronological as psychological categories. A man is young, as long as he is able to love, and it is not surprising that it is love in different guises that appears in the film as the true meaning of life.

The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot

What is the meaning of Queenie’s image?

The image of a kind and energetic African-American woman, who actually saved the baby Button and raised him, belongs to the most vivid and memorable images of the film. Queenie is the embodiment of that absolute love, which is described in the Gospel Epistle to the Corinthians: “Love … does not seek its own, does not get irritated, does not think evil … it covers everything, believes everything, hopes everything, endures everything. Love never ends…”. From the very beginning, Queenie loves Benjamin for who he is, and she does not need anything from him – if only he was in the world and was happy. At the same time, Queenie is an excellent illustration of the proverb “Not the mother who gave birth, but the one who raised.” In the paradoxical world of the film, the fact that his own father disowned the baby and actually threw him to his own devices turns out to be a huge success for Benjamin.

The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot

Why is the hero growing up in a nursing home?

The fact that a father, distraught with despair, throws an old-looking child to a nursing home (and not to an orphanage) has its own everyday logic. Philosophically, the main meaning of Benjamin’s growing up among the elderly is the opportunity to become a person free from many complexes and internal conflicts. Old age does not dissemble, is not afraid to be oneself, does not worry about trifles, and the inhabitants of the nursing home pass on these qualities to Benjamin.

The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot

What is the meaning of the scenes with Elizabeth?

An affair with the Englishwoman Elizabeth, unfolding in snowy Murmansk, is the hero’s first “adult” feeling, which makes it possible to understand that love is not only the fusion of bodies, but also the intimacy of souls. It’s no coincidence that their relationship begins with endless nocturnal conversations, not sex.

The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot

Elizabeth is a person who is dissatisfied with her life and at the same time does not even try to change it: the woman is sure that it is too late for any changes, and life has been lived in vain. But did Elizabeth really waste her time? Her letter of thanks to Benjamin suggests that an affair with a strange sailor in a hotel with a strange name “Winter Palace” (note in parentheses that such a name was just as impossible in December 1941 as the shoulder straps of Soviet officers) forced her to reconsider her life and find new sources of light in it.

What makes the Benjamin and Daisy romance unique?

The love between the main characters is one of the main plot lines of the film, helping to understand its meaning. She is shown in such a way that the audience has no doubts: for Daisy, Benjamin was the love of her whole life, just as she was for him. Nevertheless, viewers sometimes wonder: why Benjamin began his “male” biography with a girl from a brothel, and did not wait until Daisy grows up? And why does Daisy respond to the feelings of the hero only when an accident interrupts her ballet career, and before that she didn’t really need him?

The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot

Such questions will disappear if you understand that for all the fantastic character of the starting point, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a realistic film showing life with warmth and love, but without sentimentality. And the feeling of the main characters is not conditionally romantic, but psychologically reliable and worldly believable. We can meet with others and experience a variety of adventures, but at the appointed hour, thousands of accidents will turn out so that we will still be with the one who is destined for us by fate.

What is the point of the last frames of the film?

To understand the final shots, one should recall the phrase said earlier by Benjamin: “Life is a series of intersecting destinies and accidents that are beyond the control of anyone.” We see all the people with whom fate brought Benjamin, whom he influenced in one way or another – and who influenced him. All of them are unique, just as each person is unique, and it does not matter at all why he was sent to Earth – to swim, paint, sit by the river, be a mother or dance.

The mysterious story of Benjamin Button (2008) - meaning and explanation of the film's plot

Each of us deserves love, memory and sympathy, and the clock going backwards is a symbol of this memory. Let time be an element that, like a flood, seeks to carry everything into oblivion: a person is alive as long as there is someone to remember about him. In this regard, Benjamin’s diary, inherited by his daughter, can be viewed as a symbol of the victory of memory over Time, and life over death.

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