Director: David Fincher      (2008)

Benjamin (Brad Pitt); Daisy (Cate Blanchett) 

benjamin button poster

            David Fincher’s century spanning film The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, shot with meticulous era detail, is, to say the least, an unusual film. Fincher’s earlier films (Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room) were impressive displays of film technique, visual metaphor and complex overlaying metaphoric development. His latest two (Zodiac and Bennie Button) are quite different, at least structurally. Far more restrained, more focused on story development, on subtle moods and cavernous spaces, they are both films very much focused on the processes of time; on its passing, its textures and feel. Fincher seems to be narrowing on finding some way to film the actual sense of the expanse of time, on its variable lengths, on the profundity of its movement and its effect on lives.


            Button has an unusual and interesting structure. The arc of the story is no arc at all, but more like an infinity sign. The nearly incomprehensible Irish tugboat artist, Mike Clark, explains in a bar how the wings of a hummingbird, when slowed down, trace the infinity pattern – he even carves it out of space, slow and dramatic, just in case you missed those first few weeks of Algebra class. Fincher maps the film to this. Benjamin and Daisy weave the course, in opposite directions, for the length of the film, connecting at the ends, in youth and in old age. And they intersect in the middle, both in the center of their lives, for the culmination of their love affair – a few years of happiness overlapping and joined in the passing. Most of the movie we watch the two live their lives on separate paths, following the arcs as they sweep away from each other and back again.


            If the house in New Orleans can serve as some axis, a home in space that stays in place, then we watch Benjamin travel away from it and into the world, to harbors and Russia and war, while Daisy heads the other way, growing in years spent in New York, in dance and youth. Their small relationships at the time mirror each other in this flipped loop from the axis with Benjamin having his middle aged affair with a married woman while Daisy has a youthful fling with a young artist. When they meet in these far off paths of their lives, they are distant, going opposite directions, and they don’t or can’t understand or make room for the other. Daisy even heads to what looks like the same street in Russia as part of the dance troupe just to make the point – the distance, the out of phase traversing of their lives. At their most distant point from each other, Benjamin goes to see her in the hospital. Broken, cut and looking her worst from the accident, Daisy looks at him – the scene shot from her point of view and blurred, slowly drawn into focus as if he were at a great distance. She sees him and says, ‘you’re perfect.’ Even physically, they are at their furthest point.

            The same happens on the second loop of the symbol, after their life together, with Benjamin traveling out again, far out in the radius of his path before returning home again, meeting at the end point for Daisy to mother him as a senile infant.


          The one constant in all this flux, in the constant movement and change of time, is love. In bed, Benjamin, conscious of their soon to be diverting paths, says how ‘nothing last’. She retorts, ‘some things last.’ She means love, of course. It’s the one unchanging, sturdy constant in their lives, even when the cycle is at its deepest apogee. Well, love and its opposite; the unavoidable aloneness that traces particularly Benjamin’s life – his separate track than everyone else, his path alone.

            There is a scene that beautifully depicts this structural concept. In the center of their romance, Benjamin stands at the edge of the room watching Daisy dance alone in her dance studio, stumbling on her repaired knee. This is the point of their paths crossing, the very center of their lives. Daisy even comments on this in the scene, stating how they are both around the same age. She talks about the geometry of their lives: ‘In dance, it is all about your line. Once you lose your line, you never get it back.’ She tells him she’s pregnant. It is the point that starts Benjamin on his journey past her; he senses the end of their life together immediately, and fears his inability to be a father. He sees it is the start of the end, the crossing point where his journey dips below the axis line and resumes its path away from her. Fincher, being a visual master, composes the scene with them leaning on the ballet bar, against the wall mirror – Benjamin looks at her mirror image, she at his – if you trace their eye lines through the reflections, what does it look like? The infinity sign. This is that line they cross before heading off again in opposite directions.


           Here, at their most intimate moment, as they are starting a family and deep in the heart of their love for one another, the relationship between them is visually perfect – each and their mirror image. The mirror is an axis plane between the one aging and the other in reverse, between the lives of each together and in distance, bound in this juncture and in memory and reflection. In the frame, there are 4 of them, the ones on the positive side and the negative side of the axis, and the relationship between them all is this continuous, flowing figure 8. It is a wonderful image that visually sets the deep emotion and separateness of the film. Benjamin is a man alone, in love and dedicated to that love for his life, but most of it he spends in reflection, in the sweeping infinite sign away from home and happiness.

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