My wife and I finally saw Benjamin Button last night, which is apparently Netflix’s most rented title right now. It was a good film, but I was underwhelmed. The premise offers a creative means of exploring what it means to grow old, but the film didn’t seem to provide any great insight along the way. I was also surprised that they almost entirely ignored what I have always thought was the most interesting possibility of such a conceit: imagine if you could live your youth with all the wisdom of old age? How is it that in two and a half hours, we hardly even see Benjamin’s youth?
There was simply too little character payoff to Benjamin’s odd life, and he didn’t seem any more noble or wise at the end than at the beginning. Even after all that he had been through, he essentially wasted his “youth” by running from his responsibilities, which seems all the more deplorable given his backwards life. Maybe that’s why I never felt much invested in the love story either: for all their supposed devotion, Benjamin and Daisy spend most of their time choosing other people over one another. Neither one of them ever seemed especially virtuous, at the beginning or the end.
But maybe that was the point. There was a lot of talk of regret and missed opportunity, so even if Benjamin and Daisy themselves continued to make the same mistakes, they do at least remind us not to do so. Still, the film could have done a much better job developing the theme, especially as several major moral failings were not allowed to have any negative consequences at all. I also felt that the framing story–where Daisy’s daughter reads Benjamin’s diary on the eve of Hurricane Katrina–was more of a distraction than a help, and never really paid off its references to the hurricane.
Still, it was an interesting film, and some of the later scenes were very sweet. The computer-generated effects were also quite good, especially in how they smoothly aged and made younger Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, though I actually thought the most impressive CGI was when the tug-boat faced down the German sub. The tracing machine-gun fire felt so brutally real that I almost ducked. There was also some very good, subtle humor. All around, while the film could have been much better than it was (and about a half-hour shorter), it was well worth seeing.