The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I don’t do death. I’ve spent my entire life blocking out the fact that death happens. But yesterday I learned that my most dearly beloved – the sweet and loyal and gentle Finley Dogchild – has a tumour the size of an orange growing between the muscles of her right thigh. It’s not going to kill her, but the effects of it are ageing her rapidly and quite alarmingly. She’s gone from running girl to little old lady before my eyes.

Under the circumstance, it was therefore probably unwise of me, to accept an invitation to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the CGI tale starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, featuring a man who ages and dies backwards. Born an arthritic little old man, the kindly Benjamin youthens (?) as he ages, a fact that somewhat understandably causes complications in his relationship with the beautiful ballerina Daisy. It’s going to end badly – and you’ve got 166 minutes to wait for it to happen.

Yes, Benjamin Button is a really long movie about death, and a lot of the scenes seem purely extraneous to the story itself. It’s beautifully made, with a richly realised period design that’s got a Moulin Rouge kind of feel to it. But while it is undoubtedly poignant, it ultimately feels soulless. I woke up this morning, feeling that somehow I’d be cheated.

The original screenplay was set in Maryland, but rewritten with Louisiana backdrops to take advantage of that State’s now famous tax breaks. But tax breaks alone would perhaps not have been enough – you’ve got to be able to offer the crews and services and range of locations to make it work. Said Line Producer Ceon Chafin, in the Times-Picayune:

“Without Louisiana’s tax rebate program we literally couldn’t get this film off the ground. But while that may be what got us here, it is not the most important part. The most important part is that Louisiana has so much to offer. The crews are good to work with. I’ve worked all across the nation and in 13 countries, and you can’t say that everywhere you go.” 

The result – a significant portion of the estimated production budget of $150 million spent directly in the local community, and the incalculable spin-off value of the Pitt-Jolie clan taking up residence in the city’s French Quarter (they’ve even enrolled one of their brood in the local school – priceless!) Admittedly, New Orleans locations look fantastic – and they somehow add to the “otherworldliness” of the plot.

And if you’re also feeling that there’s a nagging similarity between Benjamin and that other idiot savant – Forrest Gump – then you’re not mistaken. Both movies were written by Eric Roth.