Double Feature: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Doubt

There is a movie theater on the outskirts of New York where they overcharge for tickets, but don’t particularly care if you spend the day post-entry. There d42 and I went and had us a movie night, broke teenager style.

The first movie, and to me, the more powerful, was The Curious Case. The plot is about a strange situation, where, possibly due to the intensity of one clock-maker’s grief, a man’s life ran a temporal opposite of the rest of the world. The story takes place in the roaring 20’s, and is based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It certainly has that Great Gatsby feel to it. Despite the director being David Fincher, it also has many similarities to Forrest Gump within the character interactions, dynamics, and plot line.

This is a story within a story, and it opens in Louisiana, just as Katrina is getting ready to hit. A dying woman is being watched by her daughter. She requests that a diary be read to her as she passes. Brad Pitt’s voice begins to tell us about an infant born an ancient man, blind with cataracts and completely arthritic. He was adopted into a retirement home wher he grew younger as everyone around him grew older and died. The boy may have been only 10, but he looked 60 and doors flew open into the adult world. From the trailers the film looked to be a love story. And the love story was there, it framed the plot, constantly cycling back to a girl Benjamin met when they were both children. We meet her when she is in the deep old age, then we see her a striking young girl, a teenager, a self-centered beauty, a defeated wreck. And Benjamin is always there in the end, until he can’t be anymore.

This was a more emotional rather than cerebral movie. The amazing visuals help place the film in your right, rather than left, hemisphere. The plot is whimsical, but straight forward in many ways. It was satisfying in its predictability and it was as sad as it was comical. The picture was riddled with background characters, each important, each an aspect of what Benjamin would learn. His was a journey almost like Siddartha’s, each part of life a test of his nature, bringing sadness and joy.

Oh, and Brad Pitt is still painfully hot, and even hotter with CGI-enhanced luminous youth. Cate Blanchett also glows with beauty, with her striking eyes and hair and preternaturally pale skin, even as wrinkles beset her perfect features.

A Five-Star feature for amazing plot, excellent acting and beautiful visuals.

Doubt was a more cerebral experience. So much so, that it felt more like a play than a movie. Of course, after 3 hours of The Curious Case, my ability to enjoy the screen was somewhat dulled. I did not feel this movie, but I thought it, and it was logically pleasing. D42 enjoyed this movie more than I did because, I think, she was raised Catholic, while I was raised Communist. The film influenced her in a way that was alien to me.

The plot is well-described by the title. The story takes place inside a catholic school run by the sisters. A priest (Philip Seymore Hoffman) gives a sermon, which puts a nun (Meryl Streep), the principle of the school, on guard. The sermon is about doubt and about the isolation a person can feel once he or she has sinned, the mental torture that Dostoevsky’s Roskolnikov experienced in Crime and Punishment.

The elder nun’s suspicions are compounded by a young sister’s observations, in her class, of a student’s odd behavior after the boy is called into the rectory to speak in private with the priest. Confrontations ensue, as well as much soul-searching. The viewer is given clues to the mystery of what exactly motivated the priest, as well as the motives the boy in questions might have had. The evidence points in both directions, both to the priest’s innocence and to his guilt.

Like in plays and works of literature, certain devices are used to highlight emotional scenes. Windows are constantly slammed shut against a pervasive wind, which brings dead foliage and cold rain into the sanctuary. There are only a few main characters; everyone else is only background. The entire action is carried out in dialogue. The film begs further analysis, just as a work of literature might.

I don’t believe it is much of a spoiler to say that the ending is quite ambivalent. The viewer is given enough information to make his or her own decision as to the conclusion and each viwer will take his or her prejudices and upbringing and make this decision. But there will be a small speck of doubt nagging and forcing the viewer to reconsider.

A fine film with superb performances by Streep and Hoffman. I give it Four Stars.


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    • Rob
    • January 5th, 2009

    “raised Communist” Laughter almost made me spit juice all over the monitor when I read that. Thank you for educating me again, regarding movies.

  1. i was pleasantly surprised to find out that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the short story upon which Benjamin Button (the movie) was based, they mention this in the opening credits

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