“I was born under unusual circumstances”
And so begins “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards. A man, like any of us, unable to stop time. We follow his story set in New Orleans from the end of World War I in 1918, into the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man’s life can be. Directed by David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a time traveler’s tale of the people and places he bumps into along the way, the loves he loses and finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.
Starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, The story begins by the elderly Daisy (Cate Blanchett) who is on her deathbed with her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) in a New Orleans hospital as Hurricane Katrina approaches in August 2005. Daisy tells the story of a blind clockmaker named Gateau, who was commissioned to create a clock to hang in the New Orleans train station. After receiving news of his son’s death in World War I, he continued work on his clock, but intentionally designed it to run backward, in the hope that it would bring back those who died in the war. After her cryptic story, Daisy asks Caroline to read aloud from a diary containing photographs and postcards written by Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt). Caroline begins to read as the story transitions to Benjamin’s narration.
Here, I feel that the writer has cleverly prepare the audience / reader into the story that he wanted to tell later on, very smart move indeed. The best part I like about this story.
On November 11, 1918, just as the people of New Orleans are celebrating the end of World War I, a baby boy is born with the appearance and physical maladies of an elderly man. The mother of the baby dies shortly after giving birth, and the father, Thomas Button, takes the baby and abandons him on the porch of a nursing home. Queenie and Tizzy, a couple who work at the nursing home, find the baby. Queenie, who is unable to conceive, decides to take the baby in as her own, against Tizzy’s wishes. She names the baby Benjamin.
Over the course of the story, Benjamin begins to biologically grow younger. In 1930, while still appearing to be in his seventies, he meets a young girl named Daisy , whose grandmother lives in the nursing home. The children play together and listen to Daisy’s grandmother read from a storybook.
A few years later, Benjamin goes to work on a tugboat on the docks of New Orleans for Captain Mike . In their free time, the captain takes him to brothels and bars. For the first time, Benjamin meets Thomas Button, who does not reveal that he is Benjamin’s father. Later, Benjamin leaves New Orleans with the tugboat crew for a long-term work engagement; Daisy asks him to send her postcards from his travels, which Benjamin does.
During a stay in Russia, Benjamin meets a British woman named Elizabeth Abbott and falls in love with her; Daisy is visibly hurt to receive this news via postcard. Elizabeth is already married, but she has an affair with Benjamin. The fling ends the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, when Elizabeth abruptly departs.
Benjamin gets caught up in World War II when Captain Mike’s boat and crew are enlisted by the United States Navy. After engaging a German U-boat in battle, Captain Mike and most of the sailors perish. After this, Benjamin, after seeing a hummingbird, sees death in a different way, as opposed to the retirement home where death seemed more natural.
In 1945, Benjamin returns to New Orleans, and learns that Daisy has become a successful dancer in New York City. When he travels there to meet Daisy at a performance, he finds Daisy has fallen in love with a fellow dancer, and tries to accept that their lives have separated.
Benjamin again meets Thomas Button, who is dying. Thomas reveals to Benjamin that he is his father and bequeaths all of his assets to Benjamin, including the house and the family button-making business. Benjamin eventually makes peace with his father before the elder Button dies.
Daisy’s dance career is ended by a car accident in Paris. When Benjamin goes to see her, Daisy is amazed at his youthful appearance, but frustrated at her own injuries, turns him away.
In 1962, Daisy returns to New Orleans and meets Benjamin again. Now the same physical age, they fall in love and move in together. They experience the 1960s together, in large part blissfully but increasingly aware of Benjamin growing younger while Daisy grows older.
After Daisy gives birth to a girl, Caroline, Benjamin, believing he cannot be a father to his daughter due to his reverse aging, and not wanting to burden Daisy with having to raise two children, sells his belongings, and leaves them to Daisy and Caroline before leaving them both to travel the world.
Reading this account in the hospital room of 2005, Caroline learns that Benjamin is her father. She is upset that Daisy took such a long time to inform her of this, but finds that Benjamin sent her a postcard from everywhere for each of her birthdays expressing his love for his daughter.
In 1980, Benjamin, now looking like a young man, returns to meet Daisy in her dance studio. The aging Daisy is now married to Robert Williams, a kind man who supports her well, to Benjamin’s relief. Daisy introduces Benjamin to Robert and the 12-year-old Caroline as a long-time family friend. Daisy and Benjamin then meet privately in Benjamin’s hotel where they share their passion for each other, but they mutually realize that Daisy has become too old for Benjamin.
Benjamin departs again and continues to grow younger. One day Daisy receives a phone call from social workers. They inform her that they found Benjamin – now a young pre-teen just hitting puberty – living in a condemned building, and that they called her because they saw her name all over his diary. The social workers believe that he has dementia as he sometimes forgets that he had just eaten and cannot remember Daisy or much of his past. Daisy moves into the nursing home where Benjamin grew up and takes care of him as he becomes a confused 5-year-old boy with a growing temper.
In 2002, Mr. Gateau’s old clock is removed from the train station. Shortly afterward, in the spring of 2003, the now-physically infant, 85-year-old Benjamin dies in Daisy’s arms. At the moment before Benjamin dies, Daisy claims to have seen in his eyes that he still remembered her.
In the 2005 hospital room, the hurricane raging outside downs the electrical system. As Caroline briefly leaves the room, Daisy passes away, her wish of seeing Benjamin again seemingly answered by a hummingbird hovering outside the storm-drenched windows. Against the sounds of the city’s emergency sirens and reports of breached levees, the backwards clock is shown in a basement, still working, as floodwaters envelope the storage room where it is kept.