Saturday, February 21, 2009

Film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

This was not a movie I would have seen were it not nominated for Best Picture (and a dozen more awards). Reading Roger Ebert’s review made it more unlikely that I would see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Ebert practically says the idea of a man born in an old body, which gets progressively younger while his mind ages, is too fantastical to consider. So what could I make of such a movie? Seeing as how Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt)and Daisy (Cate Blanchette)were approaching their relationship from such unusual vantage points, I wondered if ‘perspectival realism’ (ala Stolorow, that each approaches ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ from one’s own unique, teeny tiny sliver of experience, an infinitesimal part of the whole picture, thereby encouraging respect for the ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ of others) would apply. I thought about how time and aging and mortality in an (expectable trajectory serve as ‘organizing principles’ for each of us, and how their use in Benjamin Button may have served to discombobulate Ebert and undermine his/the audience’s capacity for emotional connection with this film. And Ebert made it seem so creepy when he wondered what Benjamin and Daisy were thinking the first time they made love: was Benjamin remembering Daisy as a little girl? Was she remembering him as a wizened boy?

Then I saw the film. And now I can see its appeal. Not only is its digital technology proficient, but it is a love story about love that endures the ravages of time. Who doesn’t understand the wish for such a love? But an Academy nomination? And who doesn’t understand how nearly impossible is such a love? Who doesn’t wish they knew then (at 16) what they know now (at 60)? So this is a fairy tale in more ways than its quirky time.

Still, Benjamin and Daisy are a couple with their problems. They are like two ships passing in the night, again and again. I sometimes wonder if couples aren’t all a lot like this: we turn around and the other is different, changed, sometimes, in a disconcerting way. Don’t all couples struggle to retain a common purpose, to meet and to have needs met? Despite that the screenplay is by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), this film is not the farce of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, but captures more the sadness of goodbyes. Director David Fincher (Fight Club) gets the best he could from the often limited Pitt.

While I was happy that Benjamin, having been raised in an ‘old folks home,’ learned to love, listen to, learn from, and respect those who were aged, the sprinkling of philosophizing he did might have been better left to Robert Downey, Jr in Tropic Thunder. What I liked best about this film was Benjamin’s openness to learning from characters from all walks of life, particularly his staying up night after night with Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton) propelled by an open and indefatigable curiosity, which also turned to love, about her life. While we as analysts do not physically consummate our relationships with patients, I think we, too, are propelled by an open curiosity, a wish to learn, and by love.

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