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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Curious Case of Time Travel

First today, a new bookmark put out by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission encouraging teens to time travel via a book. Time travel is everywhere, all I'm sayin'...
As you may guess, time travel is all over my Netflix account, too. Today on the writerly chopping block: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Not a time travel, perse, but close enough to my warped sense of holy-Batman-something's-up-with-time and in complete alignment to my appreciation of the Adonis-form that is Brad Pitt to warrant a post. Sadly, I haven't read F. Scott Fitzgerald's original short (very sparse) story as I'd intended to. My Time Twistin' bookmark is parked in H.G. Well's The Time Machine. One classic at a time, people. That said, any of my issues with the movie may be rectified by reading the original. As it is, I love an author who pays homage to his most classic character (Daisy) by revisiting the name in another work. This is either a self-gratifying stroke of Fitzgerald's ego or the boy had issues with an unrequited love named Daisy during his lifetime.

The film's tag line is simple, even borrowed from some phrase Crazy Aunt Edna of Disney-wanted-me-to-draw-for-them-fame used to spout, but wholly inspiring: Life isn't measured in minutes, but in moments.

So true. For Benjamin Button, portrayed with a certain nostalgic, Gump-esque quality by Brad Pitt, life is lived in reverse. He is born in post WWI New Orleans, a defenseless, grotesque infant of advanced age. Abandoned by his father, he is raised in the nurturing cocoon of an old folks home, loved and cherished. Where his body progresses to a more youthful state with each passing year, his restless spirit follows until he ventures out into the world to experience the same firsts and lasts we all do. He experiences love, some would say a more difficult state than aging backward, in all its complex forms: maternal, unconditional, romantic, friendship and reminds us of its fragility and transient nature in our own lives. The movie is of Titanic proportions, both in running time and its inevitable end in the viewer's mind. Cradle to grave. Strangely, in reverse, not all that different. But we're willing to make the journey to spotlight the guideposts of our own lives.

My issue with the movie was not what some viewed as an unsympathetic, cold protagonist, nor in the nagging question that plagues almost every scene: Why do the people surrounding him accept this so unflinchingly? but in that oft-used writer's tool: the bookend.

The movie opens with a blind clockmaker constructing a clock for Grand Central Terminal in 1918 New York. The movie closes with said clock. That the timepiece runs backwards is a hit-the-audience-over-the-head metaphor of epic proportions, but nowhere in the film is the thread of this bookend ever connected to Benjamin's story. Any assumption of reincarnation is a continental reach. Connect it for us, Mr. Screenwriter Eric Roth, and I'll be a forever fan of this quiet tale.

For now, I shall fortify my bleak attention-span of late to trudge through H.G. Well's opening line:

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.

Wow, right? It's like a twelve-grain power bar on a mental liquid diet.

What did you think of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

7 comments:

the walking man said...

I simply assumed that the clock was the set up for the framework of the story to follow. But you're right on in that it could have played a slightly bigger role. But then who knows what wound up on the cutting room floor.

laughingwolf said...

have not seen it, nor any compulsion to so do from all i've heard about it...

Vesper said...

I haven't seen the movie and I haven't read the short-story... I think I will now, after reading your review.
I imagine aging backwards to be a lot more difficult than the... usual way, despite first impressions...

Charles Gramlich said...

Benjamin buttons looks fairly boring to me. Plus I hear it's long. I don't do long movies. I go to sleep.

Todd Wheeler said...

[scrolls down and covers eyes to avoid spoilers] Yes! Word! Excellent point. :P

the walking man said...

Actually it was a fairly watchable movie from a guys stand point, not too chick flick at all.

Barbara Martin said...

I haven't seen the movie, but will wait for it to come out on DVD.