The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on the 1922 short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is an American fantasy film directed by David Fincher in 2008. In the movie, Benjamin Button, played by Brad Pitt, is a man who was born as an elderly man but gets younger throughout time. His story is narrated in a New Orleans hospital, where his love interest throughout his life, Daisy Fuller, played by Cate Blanchett, is living her last moment. Infant Benjamin with a terrifying appearance was left by his father outside of a nursing home, where he was adopted byMs. Queenie. From there, he grewup and methis love, Daisy, for the first time, when shevisited her grandmother. The entire movie tells us about Benjamin’s unusual reverse aging adventures, his relationship with Daisy, and the people around him, which portray an incredible life he has. Over the course of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher explores the philosophy of Sartre’s conflict with the other, Heidegger’s being toward death, and Hamlet’s three existential conflicts.
The Sartre’s philosophy is mentioned throughout the movie in not just main character’s life but also others’.This philosophy consists of authenticity and how we define ourselves in response to others(Lacefield). The first half of the movie revolves around the life of Benjamin, who grewup in an elderly man appearance but with a soul of a youngster.Even though the doctor diagnoses that Benjamin will die soon,he manages to grow up and live his life, contrary to everyone’s expectation. He wants to go out and discover the world; but he cannot walk,so heusescrutches to help him.When he is able to walk, he doesnot let his physical condition prevent him from going to the bar, having a wild night, and getting the job of as a sailor. This period has been portrayed successfully with the skillful acting, make-up, and computer-generated imagery (CGI) that representthe authenticity perfectly. Brad Pittportrays the psychological process of how a teenager’s thoughts hidebeneath that elderly look, how the child cannot understand what is wrong with him and suffer great pain, and how Benjamin stays true to himself even withothers’ prejudice about him.Besides Benjamin, the director also develops Sartre’s philosophy in other characters’ lives.When working as a sailor, Benjamin hearsaboutthecaptain’sdream of becoming an artistand how his father insulted that childhood dream. The captain then undressesand shows Benjamin his body filled with tattoos, presenting that he had pursued his dream and became a tattoo artist. The philosophy says that “The Other is often an obstacle to my authenticity and we define ourselves in responseto others” (Lacefield).Because the captain’s father was the obstacle between him and his dream, it becomesthe motivation for him to keepfollowing this dream. He learnsto be both a tattoo artist and a sailor, in order to define and response to the others who he really is.
Besides Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger is also a philosopher whose ideas about death are explored in this movie. Heidegger says that our mortality is a fundamental aspect of our existence, and we must recognize the implications of our own mortality in order to live most authentically(Lacefield). In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Benjamin has a period living onthe sea in the World War II, where his ship encountersa submarine of the enemy. After the fight, he is one of the only few people left who are still alive. He realizesthatdeath seemsto be natural in war. In his conversationwithMs. Queenielater, his mother seesin his eyesthe pains Benjamin haswitnessed. However, she also seesthe joys in his journey. In fact, the pains that soldiers suffer in war is often the motivation for them to live a better life. Heidegger’s theory talks about the reason why we should think about death is to realize that your time to experience thing in life is limited; therefore,thinking about death helps you determine your most authentic priorities. Because of that,Benjamingetsin the relationship with Daisy and startsliving a full life with the heritage from his father’s button factory. Even after leaving Daisy and wandering in India, he still appreciates his youth time, which isgoing to end, by feeling things he had never felt before, meeting people with different points of view, and having the strength to start all over again whenever he fails. To create such experiences, the filmmakers have used special movie techniquesto represent his time in India. This part of the movie is a series of short videos in which Benjamin livesa poor but free life. His narration of his thoughts and the filter which makes this part of the movie look like an old low-quality documentary not only create a sense ofsorrow for a manwho is running out of his youth time, but also help audienceunderstand his appreciation for these experiences. Moreover, besides the main plot, the producer also uses Heidegger’s philosophical idea in a small detail that only appears atthe beginning andatthe end of the movie. It isthe construction of the clock which runsreversely in the central of the subway station. This clock is to memorize the death the clockmaker’s son who died in war. At the end, this clock, replaced by an electrical one, liesdown in a storage but still runsreversely, reminding us to think about death. The way director delicately puts this detail in the introduction and at the end leavesthe audiences with strong emphasis about the philosophy of Heidegger.
Another theory that can be seen in the movie is the Hamlet’s Three Existential Conflicts, which are to exist or to commit self-destruct, to be what others desire or to be who one authentically wants to be, and to be one self or to be a different self. “The existential philosophy seeks to help the individual find an authentic narrative or life-script while also acknowledging the unresolvable tensions in each of the three dichotomies”(Lacefield).These conflicts are portrayed in different storylines in the movie. Daisy growsup and becomesa famous dancer who travelsaround the world to perform. At the peak of her career, she getsin an accident in Paris andhasto end hercareer. WhenBenjamin fliesto France to visit her, Daisy harshly askshimto leave because she isstill in shockthat her career has ended.She seemsto commit in a self-destruction, leaving everyone she loved and feeling the darkness overwhelming her. However, the thought of existence wins over the darkness and she comesback to America, fallsin love with Benjamin, and opensa dancing class for children. Not only relatesto the first conflict, this story also connectsto the conflictbetween self and other. Daisy is expected to live a life of a housewife with such injures, but she still decides to pursueher passion asa dancing teacher. The director, David Fincher, has a unique way to illustrate theregret of Daisy. She flashbacksachain of related events that hashappened before the accident and wishesif anyof them occurred differently. By doing this, the director stimulates the heartbroken feeling in the audience for Daisy’s fate. Apartfrom Daisy’s conflicts, there is an inner conflict inside Benjamin when he knows his loveris pregnant. On one hand, he can be happier to become a father, to love and take care of his daughter.On the other hand, he understands that he is aging reversely and someday he willput the responsibility on Daisy to raise both him and their child. At the end, he decidesto leave all the money for Daisy and goesto India. It is a hard decision for Benjamin as he putshis family above him.
In conclusion, The Curious Case of Benjamin presents many existential ideas and teaches the audience a lesson of life appreciation. These ideas describe the way people decide and live in different circumstances. Throughout the life adventure of BenjaminButton, the stories of himand other characters have made great impacts on the audience, encouraging them to appreciatetheir lives more.
Lacefield, Kristen. “Hamlet and Existentialism.”TexasChristian University,n.p, May 12, 2017.