Living Backwards

Living Backwards

What’s curious about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is that this meditative (literally, in terms of length — it’s nearly three hours long — and evocative imagery) movie is publicized as based on (though “inspired” might be the better term in that it uses the conceit of a man who ages backwards, from 80 years to newborn and not much else; this is a arguably a case where the movie improves upon the source material) an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story.  Now, pardon my elitist attitude, but I’d be willing to bet that most of the audience not only has not read the story, but may only have heard of Fitzgerald by way of Robert Redford, if that. But it lends the movie a certain legitimacy.  See, the marketing people are saying, this isn’t some light fantasy, it is a legitimate drama based on a legitimate American writer, even if not that many people read him anymore (which is maybe what makes him “legitimate” from some people’s perspective).

No need to apologize.

This is one of those relatively rare cases in which the acting and the special effects are equally engaging and complementary.  While it’s interesting to watch Brad Pitt age backwards (though I could have done without lingering shots of Pitt at his presumable actual age looking cool, perhaps that pandering to a targeted demographic in which my adolescent daughter belongs), Cate Blanchett as Daisy (bonus points if you’ve figured the significance of that name) is a marvel to behold as Benjamin’s bohemian love interest. With the aid of considerable make-up and perhaps some digital tinkering, Pitt plays his role with amused ironic attachment that may be appropriate for a man whose psychological and emotional state is in opposition to his physical being.  However, it is Blanchett’s character that anchors the tale, both through a neat metaphorical framing device involving Hurricane Katrina, and the power of Blanchett’s performance.   (By the way, if you haven’t seen Blanchett portray a young Bob Dylan, run, don’t walk, to your favored video outlet and rent I’m Not There.)

Yeah, it’s a bittersweet love story that will rake in the Brad Pitt fans. More significantly, it’s about the finite grandeur of the human condition.

Well worth seeing in the theater.  Don’t wait for the DVD. Just make sure you hit the rest rooms before the movie starts.

Speaking of “mainstream fantasy,” I’m almost finished with the The Story of Edgar Sawtalle, a neat (though also at times overlong) retelling of Hamlet that has received the Oprah seal of approval and high praise from Stephen King (though which, for certain elitists, is the kiss of death). Like the source material, so far it’s unclear whether the protagonist actually sees the ghost of his father, or not. I’m still having trouble with a key scene that results in Edgar fleeing from his home that defies logic, and even in a story with some fantastical trappings you still need some logic, but I’m hoping that once I get to the resolution I might get a better understanding of that.

And, speaking of Hamlet inspirations, I’m enjoying a Canadian TV series called Slings and Arrows about the comic artistic and financial trials of a Shakespeare festival. The newly appointed director has a history of mental instability, but has been appointed because of his outspoken opposition to the commercialized boredom of contemporary productions of the Bard. The problem is that the ghost of the past director, with whom there is some shared sexual complications involving the troupe’s leading lady, appears to provide some suggestions and, well, you can imagine where this is going. Fun stuff.  

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James Enge

Thanks for this. After reading a couple of lukewarm reviews I was ready to dismiss the idea of seeing the movie, but maybe now I’ll front-burner it before it disappears from local movie houses. (I’m sure House Bunny II: The Bunnification or some other important cinematic event is due to displace it soon.)

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