The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, December 19, 2008

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008)

I have a love of film that goes back before my first memories. I've just ALWAYS loved film, and when I see something like "Slumdog Millionare" or "Button," it just makes me sit up and smile. Movies like this are what film is ABOUT--the ability to range from extreme intimacy to extreme spectacle. No other medium is quite like it. Books enable you to do much the same thing, but a single book is the work of (usually) a single mind, which is great...but when you bring dozens, or hundreds of artists together comprising thousands of man-years of accumulated skill, there is the potential for something that can reach far more people, show them aspects of life from many different directions, and as a result, have more cultural or emotional impact than all but the very finest novels.

"Benjamin Button," suggested by a VERY short F. Scott Fitzgerald story, is the tale of a man who is born old and lives his life backwards. It deals with issues of loss,and love, and death...and contains Brad Pitt's very finest performance, as well as a stunner by Kate Blanchette. The structure is somewhat fractured...as you would expect it to be, told to and by an aged Blanchette as she awaits the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from her death bed. This is a VERY sophisticated structure, more "magical realism" than traditional fantasy. There is simply one "fact" different about this world, and people don't really make much of it...except for its effects upon one man's life.

And what a life it is. Adventure, romance, heartbreak...this is excellent work. One person's life can be diagrammed most accurately with the structure of the Hero's Journey but the application of this knowledge in the creation of a script like THIS? Genius, from the same mind that brought us FORREST GUMP. Look carefully and you'll notice some of the same emotional attitudes toward life. Mature and affecting, "Button" is one of my favorite movies of the year. An "A"


2 comments:

mjholt said...

Thank you for the sophisticated comments on "Button." You included a tasty comment that I beg you to expand upon the how the following was done:
"One person's life can be diagrammed most accurately with the structure of the Hero's Journey but the application of this knowledge in the creation of a script like THIS? Genius..."

Steven Barnes said...

Grasp that "Button" takes Pitt's life and runs it backwards, while everyone else's life is running forward. Balancing the implications of that is master-level stuff. What are the major challenges in life? Talking, walking, learning, working, loving, taking responsibility for others, accepting limitations and decline, and facing death. Each of these can be addressed in separate "Hero's Journey" cycles. "Benjamin Button" ran them backwards...but also forward at the same time. THAT is juggling four chain-saws while most people struggle to juggle three scarves. Don't even THINK of trying something that sophisticated unless you have total, overwhelming confidence in your professional-level skills.