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Benjamin Button Screening and Q&A

Today’s screening was held in the swanky Paramount theater. In attendance for the Q&A was director David Fincher, screenwriter Eric Roth and most of the heads of the tech departments. I don’t want to jinx the movie by going overboard and I don’t want to have the next few words haunt me for the next decade, nonetheless – if I had to name the film that would probably have the best shot at winning Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costumes, Art Direction it would be this one. There are several reasons, which I’ll go through after the cut.

The first and probably most important reason is that this is a film that works on every level. It is an authentic bit of writing, straight from the heart of Eric Roth, who admitted during the Q&A that he’d lost his parents while writing the script. That kind of sentiment and heartbreak cannot be faked. That kind of inspiration is rare. Unfortunately for him it came at a great cost. Perhaps this is why the truth here, bare as it is, cuts as deeply.

Combine Roth’s emotional output with David Fincher’s exactitude and you have something nearly perfect. With so many limbs, emotions and ideas the film shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does. Much credit is due to Brad Pitt, whose Benjamin Button is a soul-shattering creation. Cate Blanchett, who bursts forth like her own hurricane. Taraji P. Henson as Queenie is the heart of the film.

Funnily enough, though Eric Roth felt that the source material, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, influenced him minimally, I felt both F. Scott and Zelda throughout this, as if her spirit was haunting the film as much as his. And again, Roth barely acknowledges Fitzgerald in his own writing process – yes, it’s all him, but seeing as how they chose to set the film in the South how can anyone not think of Zelda? After all, wasn’t it Zelda who is said to have inspired many of Fitzgerald’s characters and in fact may have written some of his short stories, maybe even this one? Zelda wanted to be a ballet dancer around the age of 50 and she was just too old. Age afflicts us all but dancers especially. That Blanchett’s Daisy is a dancer reminded me so much of Zelda. And her name is Daisy, the same name as the beloved icon in The Great Gatsby.

Benjamin Button is about the beauty and privilege of aging. We think of it, especially in our culture, as something wicked, a disease that we must fight tooth and nail and disguise. Youth is the be all, end all. But Benjamin Button, who ages backwards, doesn’t get the benefit of having such a disease. Because he can’t have the same experience as everyone else he is destined to be alone. Loneliness from death is one of the strongest themes. If you’ve had someone die that you treasured beyond words this film will slice right through your exterior. If you’ve ever held a baby and watched a child grow up, this movie will devastate you.

I don’t want to say much more before the film opens because too much hype can kill any movie; although it must be mentioned that Benjamin Button had a lot of hype going in and managed to withstand it so perhaps hype is beside the point.

The film is a visual delight — though it’s oddly cold in its scenery. A warmer, cozier world wouldn’t have made it a Fincher movie. The truth is that it works with Fincher as the director. It is stranger than it would have been if, say, Spielberg had directed it. Nonetheless, with Spielberg it might have tipped too far into sentiment and been mush as a result, no offense.

I did not feel a detachment to it at all and I fully expected to.¬† I didn’t think that Fincher could pull off something overly sentimental. I thought it would be a few steps removed and all about the effects and the gimmick. It turns out, though, that this film is about the human experience. It’s about, as Roth and Fincher said, the people who make dents in you, who impact your life. Most of those who teach Benjamin about life are women, older women who have the benefit of wisdom.¬† His life is shaped by them, which is probably the reason I fell so hard for the film. Too often women get the short shrift in films. They aren’t given the credit they’re due as whole human beings. I was touched by the female presence in this film, quite moved by it, I must say.

So far, for me, this year is about three movies: The Dark Knight, Revolutionary Road and Benjamin Button. Wall-E in animated, Captain Abu Raed in foreign. I have yet to see many films: Milk, Slumdog, The Reader, Defiance, Australia, Rachel Getting Married, The Wrestler, The Visitor. So take it for what it’s worth.