The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
 
            There’s a Forrest Gump kind of quality to this film, which comes from master screenwriter Eric Roth, adapted from the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It seems there was this blind clock maker who lost his only son in World War One.  So when he was commissioned to construct the gigantic clock on the front wall of the local train station, he made it to go backwards, because, he said, he would love to turn back time for all those brave boys who lost their lives on the bloody killing fields of France.  Everybody apparently just accepted his eccentricity, then he promptly disappeared, but born that night, during the big Armistice celebration, was a curious little boy who seemed to not only have the sagging skin of a very old person, but also, according to the doctor, advanced arthritis, and cataracts, as if he really was very old already, and the doctor soberly predicted he would not have long to live, even as he solemnly delivered the news to the father that his wife died in childbirth.  The distraught and aggrieved father takes the baby and delivers him on the doorstep of a local nursing home, where one of the staff, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), takes pity on the poor white child, and raises him as her own.  At first, the old-looking little boy doesn’t seem so out of place there.  Everybody just accepts that he’s different.  But then, instead of withering away, like the rest of the residents, he seems to be getting taller and stronger, as if he were….aging backwards.
            The strange little boy seems to make his own way in the world.  He gets comfortable with death and dying, and with older folks, by watching the nursing home residents come and go, especially at the end, at the moment they “let go.” There’s a little girl named Daisy who comes to visit her grandmother, who turns out to be an occasional playmate, and then, a loyal correspondent.  There’s a local townsman who occasionally comes by to take him to dinner (who, he finds out much later, is his father).  Benjamin finds his way to the port, where he signs on with a tugboat captain, just doing odd jobs, first on day trips, and then, a little later, on a contract to other countries.  About that time, World War II breaks out, and eventually he experiences some unexpected combat at sea.  Convalescing in a hotel, he stumbles on his first romance, with a married woman (Tilda Swinton), who meets him every night, but her rules are that during the day, they don’t make eye contact, and never will they say to each other, “I love you.”
            Eventually, Benjamin (now played by Brad Pitt) returns to his (nursing) home, where his foster mother, Queenie, has aged dramatically.  Daisy (now played by Cate Blanchett) is now a young woman in full flower, an accomplished ballerina, touring all over the world with the best international dancing companies.  By now, they’ve developed a kind of cosmic connection, but they realize their relationship is always going to be unique.  When her leg is shattered in an automobile accident in Paris , he rushes to her side, but she tells him to go away, because she doesn’t want his pity, and she doesn’t want him to see her like this.  His aging father then reveals his identity, which at first confuses Benjamin, but eventually he accepts, and forgives, his father’s initial abandonment, and winds up inheriting a very large and prosperous button-manufacturing business.  This allows him the personal freedom to enjoy life with Daisy, who has now recovered from her injuries, and since both are now in their prime, they are able to enjoy their love and their companionship, which produces a healthy little baby girl.
            But, Benjamin is now becoming restless, because, he says, he knows that he will keep getting younger, and will not only be unable to care for little Caroline, but will eventually become a burden to Daisy, as well.  So Benjamin, thinking he is doing both a favor, disappears, as his father did, so Daisy can build a new life.  She opens a dance studio, and marries a man who will help her raise her daughter, and wonders what has become of Benjamin.
            The entire story is told in retrospective, from the point of view of Daisy on her deathbed, in a hospital room in New Orleans while Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on them, while Caroline (Julia Ormond), now middle-aged, learns many of these things about her mother for the first time, reading aloud the diaries and photographs that Daisy has saved from her colorful life.  “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a winsome kind of fable, undergirded by the romance, but also told with a spirit of adventure and a pervasive sense of whimsy.  It’s slow-moving in parts, and a little too long, but it’s a wondrous fairy tale, and a memorable moviegoing experience.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      When have you felt a huge connection to someone who wasn’t related to you, wasn’t the same gender, and wasn’t anywhere near your age?
2)      When have you run away from a responsibility because it was too overwhelming for you at that moment, but later, you regretted your cowardice?
3)      When have you accepted a responsibility to help care for another person not related to you, and found that it was an even greater blessing to you than to them?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas