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Film / The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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"My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances..."

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was originally a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was later very loosely adapted into a successful 2008 epic drama/fantasy/romance movie directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

As Hurricane Katrina heads towards the city of New Orleans, former professional ballerina Daisy Fuller (Blanchett) is on her deathbed. She asks her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) to read to her the memoirs of a man she once knew. This man, Benjamin Button (Pitt) then takes over the narration of his highly unusual life story.

In 1918, on the very eve that America celebrates the end of World War I, a baby boy is born to wealthy entrepeneur Thomas Button and his wife Caroline, and his is a very curious case indeed. He is born as an infant with the physiology and all the ailments of an elderly, shrunken man and his mother, having lost too much blood, dies during childbirth. His agonized and grieving father abandons the baby on the steps of a nearby nursing home where he is discovered by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a kind-hearted worker at the home, who decides to raise the child as her own and names him Benjamin.

The movie spans his entire life note , but mostly concentrates on his life-long on-off relationship with his true love Daisy, who he first meets as a spirited 7-year-old girl visiting her grandmother at the nursing home. Despite their paths crossing many times, they only become romantically involved later in life when Benjamin's physical age finally equals his real age, but, as is usual with this kind of film, the path of true love never does run smooth...

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Benjamin's father asks about "the house on paper street", a reference to Fight Club - which was also directed by David Fincher and starred Brad Pitt.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The original short story was a choppy 11-chapter farce (a meager 27 pages long). The film version turned that into a nearly 3-hour long dramatic epic. The story in turn was based on a brief remark by Mark Twain.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Explored, as Benjamin's outlook on life is always sharply contrasted to what "age" he looks at the time.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: One of the Brody twins from the tugboat dies in WWII, and the other is seen looking upset for a short shot in the aftermath.
  • Arc Words: "You never know what's comin' for you", a phrase uttered by various characters that highlights one of the film's many themes, this one dealing with the surprises, the unexpected events in one's life that take someone in a different direction than planned. The phrase really describes Benjamin's entire life.
  • Benevolent Boss: Captain Mike is always helpful and encouraging to his crewmen.
  • Bicep Kiss: Captain Mike is seen kissing his biceps at one point, although to be precise he's kissing the tattoo on this spot, which he considers one of his works of art.
  • Big Sleep: Benjamin's death is presented like this. He falls asleep in Daisy's arms and never wakes up.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Captain Mike. He's brash, loud, covered with tattoos, drinks heavily and visits brothels but is clearly a good, kind-hearted man underneath it all.
  • Born as an Adult: Benjamin came out of the womb as an infant that had all the disabilities of an old man.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: As Benjamin ages down from adolescence to childhood, he becomes more temperamental and difficult to deal with, making him physically a bratty child while he's mentally a Grumpy Old Man.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Elizabeth. She talks about how she tried to swim the English Channel once but wasn't able to, and that she never tried again. She disappears from the hotel leaving only a vague note to apparently never be seen again. Then, much later on in the film, Benjamin sees her being interviewed on TV. What is she being interviewed for? Being the oldest person to swim the English Channel. (One of the film's main themes is how one can never be too old or too young to live your life.)
    • The whole aside with Monsieur Gateau and his backwards-running clock at the beginning of the movie could be seen as this, as it seems to be just the ramblings of an old woman on her deathbed and appears to have no relevance to the main plot until the end when we see the clock again and it's implied that it may have had something to do with Benjamin's condition.
  • Broken Bird: Daisy is this to some extent after her accident when she finds out that her leg is broken and she'll never dance again. It's understandable when you consider how deeply she loves dancing and how central it is to her life.
  • Calling The Old Woman Out: Caroline when she discovers that Benjamin is her father attempts it with Daisy by saying "This Benjamin is my father and this is how you tell me?"
  • Calling Your Bathroom Breaks: A humorous example when Daisy is heavily pregnant. She and Benjamin are having a serious conversation about how he will cope with being a father when he himself is growing younger instead of older. Daisy is trying to convince him that he'll be a wonderful father for as long as he can.
    Daisy: "I know the consequences, I've accepted that. Loving you is worth everything to me... [Beat] I have to go pee."
  • Career-Ending Injury: Thanks to an accident on the road, Daisy can no longer perform ballet.
  • The Case of...: The title uses this template to suggest the bizarre and mysterious nature of the events.
  • Catchphrase: Queenie's "You never know what's comin' for you.", which is also repeated by Benjamin quite a few times.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Benjamin and Daisy are a strange example. Biologically Benjamin met her when he was a child, but he resembled an old man then.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Captain Mike asks Benjamin (who looks to be in his 60's at the time) if he's still able to 'get it up'. Benjamin, who is actually only a very sheltered 13/14-year-old, misunderstands him and innocently replies that he does, 'every morning', to Captain Mike's astonishment.
  • Computer-Generated Images: Surprisingly, used sparingly and very successfully. They're mostly used (along with makeup and prosthetic effects) to age and de-age various members of the cast as the events of the movie take place during such a large timescale. For example, Cate Blanchett plays Daisy from when she's in her early 20's to her 80's, and Brad Pitt as Benjamin does the same but in reverse.
  • Cradle To Grave Character: Benjamin's life is depicted from his birth to his death, with the peculiarity of being born an old man and dying a baby.
  • Death by Adaptation: Benjamin's mother survives in the short story, but not in the film.
  • Death by Childbirth: Benjamin's mother dies this way in the beginning of the movie.
  • Didn't Think This Through: When Daisy crosses the street while dancing with her eyes shut, she is run over by a car.
  • Digital Head Swap: This is how they created the 'young' Benjamin, digitally imposing Brad Pitt's head (made up in 'old age' makeup and prostethics) onto a smaller actor's body to make him look like a child-sized elderly man.
  • Disappeared Dad: Benjamin's father, Thomas Button, abandoned him on the doorstep of a local nursing home after his mother died during childbirth. He's later seen watching Benjamin from outside the nursing home. He finally introduces himself to Benjamin and befriends him by taking him for a drink. Years later when Benjamin returns from the war, Thomas finally admits that he is his father shortly before dying and leaving Benjamin his fortune.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Benjamin is this to Daisy, highlighted in their conversation when he visits her in hospital after her accident, following which he still stays in Paris to look out for her.
    Benjamin: I'm gonna take you home with me. I wanna look after you.
    Daisy: I'm not going back to New Orleans.
    Benjamin: I'll stay here in Paris.
    Daisy: Don't you understand, I don't want your help! I know I'm feeling sorry for myself, but I don't want to be with you... I tried to tell you that in New York, you don't listen.
    Benjamin: You might change your mind.
    Daisy: We are not little children anymore, Benjamin. Just... stay out of my life!
  • Doorstop Baby: After Benjamin's mother dies giving birth to him, his father abandons him on the doorstop of a nearby house that turns out to be a nursing home run by Queenie, Benjamin's eventual adoptive mother.
  • Double Entendre: Caroline asks Daisy if she wants her to skip the part of the journal where Benjamin talks about Elizabeth. Daisy remarks she's glad he found someone to "keep him warm" - as in both keeping him warm in cold Russia and keeping him warm before Daisy got to him.
  • Downer Ending: Could be seen as more of a Bittersweet Ending as Benjamin dies safe and secure in Daisy's arms. But he dies as an infant with severe dementia who can't remember anything about his life. Following that, Daisy herself dies and Hurricane Katrina is rapidly approaching New Orleans and we all know how that ends.
  • During the War: Benjamin joins World War II when the tugboat he crews on is drafted in to assist the Merchant Navy as a salvage ship.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Captain Mike ramming the German u-boat but being mortally wounded in the process.
  • Epic Movie: It runs just short of 3 hours, spans nearly 100 years, had a budget of around $150 million, has battle scenes and exotic locales, a huge cast, and was nominated for 13 oscars, winning 3 of them. Epic, indeed. And it has a suitably epic and beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat to boot.
  • Everything Fades: Benjamin in the short story, who is strongly implied just to disappear from existence in lieu of dying. The film changes this to Benjamin in the body of an infant dying comfortably in the love of his life's (who is now an old woman) arms.
  • The Eeyore: Tugboat Crewman John Grimm is full of brooding stories and statistics about deaths at sea. Benjamin comments that he has a Meaningful Name.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Captain Mike and Thomas Button, with the former's last words being repeated as the later is dying.
    You could be as mad as a mad dog about the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates; but when it comes down to the end, you have to let go.
    • Also Daisy herself at the end.
  • Fiery Redhead: Daisy. She's very strong-willed, independent, and slightly rebellious as a child and young woman. She is even a bit of a Jerkass to Benjamin at points. She seemed to have mellowed out somewhat in her later life though, most likely because of the Despair Event Horizon she went through when she broke her leg and had to stop dancing.
  • The Film of the Book: Fitzgerald's story is a satire. The movie retains nothing of the story except for the title and the idea of a man aging backwards.
  • Foil: Elizabeth could be seen as one to Daisy. They're both redheads who have a romantic relationship with Benjamin, but Elizabeth is older, restrained, and caged in by a marriage and a life she doesn't want, whereas Daisy is young, rebellious, and free-spirited.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Benjamin describes the events leading up to Daisy's Career-Ending Injury as such, musing that if even one thing had happened differently, she wouldn't have gotten hit by the taxi.
  • Fountain of Youth: The film's story is about Benjamin being born as an old man and aging backwards into a middle-aged man, adolescent, child, and lastly, an infant.
  • Framing Device: Caroline is reading Benjamin's memoirs of his life to her mother Daisy in the hours before Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. The added relevance is that Benjamin is actually her father, though she doesn't know that yet.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery:
    • Benjamin romanticises his time with Elizabeth - even though she was cheating on her husband with him.
    • Likewise Benjamin and Daisy share one night in a hotel room together years later when Daisy has remarried.
  • Grumpy Old Man: As Benjamin ages down from adolescence to childhood, he becomes more temperamental and difficult to deal with, making him mentally a grumpy old man even as physically he resembles a Bratty Half-Pint.
  • Historical Domain Character: Teddy Roosevelt attends the unveiling of Monsieur Gateau's clock at the beginning.
  • In Name Only: The movie differs significantly from the original short story that it is based on.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Thomas Button, Benjamin's father.
  • Love at First Sight: Heavily implied in the scene where Benjamin meets Daisy for the first time. "I never forgot those blue eyes." Lampshaded by Caroline when we flash back to the 'present':
    Caroline: "Mom, do you realize that this Benjamin loved you from the first moment he saw you? Not many people experience that."
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Twice. Firstly when Thomas Button reveals to Benjamin that he is his father, and then when Caroline finds out that Benjamin is her father through his diary.
  • Made of Iron: The guy that was struck by lightning seven times lives to a ripe old age.
  • Magic Realism: How did he get born with such a Curious Case? In the short story, characters act like Benjamin is acting backwards on purpose as some form of rebellion and repeatedly tell him to just stop it. In the movie, it's hinted to be tied to a clock designed to spin backwards. As Hurricane Katrina makes its way into New Orleans, the clock starts moving backwards again, bizarrely around the same time that Daisy dies...
  • Manchild: In his early years, Benjamin is an old man with the mind of a child. After an adult phase where his real and perceived age meet in the middle, it becomes the other way round.
  • May–December Romance:
    • Played with Benjamin and Daisy as while they may look vastly different ages, Benjamin is actually only a few years older than Daisy. The implied May-December Romance progresses into a July-October, then an October-July, then December-May romance. But while Benjamin's body ages backwards, his mind still ages forwards, so he and Daisy, born around the same time, are always the same age "in spirit." Nevertheless, the only time that they really get intimate is the period in which they meet in the middle.
    • It's easy to overlook considering they look a similar age, but Benjamin and Elizabeth are also an example, seeing as he is actually around 18ish (but looks like he's in his late 50's) and she looks to be around her late 40's or early 50's.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Goodnight, Benjamin" and "Goodnight, Daisy". It turns out to be the last thing that they ever say to each other. note 
  • Merlin Sickness: Benjamin, obviously, and milked for every ounce of romantic tension and general drama they can wring out of it. Benjamin breaks up with the love of his life, Daisy, because she can't raise their child and the child he will soon become.
  • Miniature Senior Citizens: Benjamin Button starts as a baby-sized old man, and grows in stature as he gets younger until he reaches his physical prime.
  • Narration Echo: The cuts between the 'current day' and the flashbacks often start with Caroline reading from the diary and Benjamin then echoing her words as he takes over the narration.
  • No Infantile Amnesia: The flashbacks are supposedly taken from Benjamin's diary/memoirs, but the first part of the film covers his time as an infant with Queenie, a period of time he had no way of remembering.
  • No Name Given: The old woman who taught Benjamin how to play piano. He can't remember her name.
  • Older Than They Look: By the end of the movie, Benjamin is a senior citizen with dementia inhabiting the body of a small child (radically older than he looks). The opposite happens at the beginning of his life.
  • Opposites Attract: Elizabeth is a rather pompous Proper Lady from England. Benjamin is a down-to-earth Southern Gentleman. They fall in love for a while.
  • Parental Substitute: Queenie and Tizzy (her husband) are this to Benjamin after his real father abandons him.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Chelsea crew defeat the German submarine by ramming it, but at the cost of the Chelsea and most of her crew.
  • Politically Correct History: Played straight most of the time, but averted in Ngunda Oti's backstory. (He once was held in the cage of a zoo!)
  • Preacher Man: Queenie takes Benjamin to a Black Preacher Man, hoping that it will help him to walk. It seemingly does, but the preacher suffers a heart attack immediately after.
  • Protagonist Title: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The final montage of the movie uses the tune of Scott Joplin's Bethena.
  • Ramming Always Works: During the brief time Benjamin's in WWII, the tugboat he's crew on rams and sinks an enemy U-Boat that had just sunk a troop transport. The captain and several crewmembers do not survive, shot by the U-boat's deck gunner.
  • Redshirt Army: During the WWII combat scene.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Everyone who finds out about Benjamin's condition decides it's best to keep it under their hat. This doesn't seem too hard to explain away for most of the movie (the only people who spend enough time around him to notice are his adoptive parents, his true love, and not-much-time-left retirees) but the doctor at the end when he's a child with dementia seems to work it out and tell no-one.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Resettling the story in Lousiana allowed to woven Hurricane Katrina (which happened less than three years before filming) into the plot.
  • Romantic False Lead: Elizabeth, whom Benjamin meets in Russia. She's his first proper romance, but she leaves their hotel one night without explanation.
  • Running Gag: "Did I ever tell you that I was struck by lightning seven times?" followed by sepia footage of the man being struck by lightning on the particular occasion he just described. We only get to see five, though.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Queenie, though she is good-natured and motherly as well.
  • Scenery Porn: There are some beautiful shots of New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana countryside, particularly when Benjamin and his father (and later Benjamin and Daisy) visit the Button's summer house on Lake Pontchartrain.
  • Screaming Birth: Featured twice, firstly when Benjamin's mother gives birth at the beginning of the film, and then when Daisy gives birth to Caroline. Daisy giving birth isn't actually shown but you can hear her screams from outside the room where Benjamin is waiting, as was the custom in the time period.
  • Second Love: After Benjamin left, Daisy found romance with a new man, and it's implied they had a happy life.
  • Sentimental Drunk: Mike is almost always drunk but is a sentimental soul for the most part.
  • Setting Update: The short story starts slightly before the The American Civil War, and Benjamin fights during Spanish-American War. The film moves it forward a few decades, with Benjamin being born at the end of WWI and fighting in WWII instead.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Played straight the first time that Benjamin and Daisy finally sleep together, the camera cuts from them kissing and undressing to each other to the closed door outside. Subverted later when there are two Sexy Indiscretion Shots of them together on a boat and on a beach in quick succession.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Elizabeth is first only seen dressed in grey and from then on only in her nightwear. Then one night Benjamin comes downstairs to find her all dolled up.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Played straight and inverted in the same scene. Benjamin sees Daisy as a young woman for the first time when he returns home from the war. She had previously seen him as a man in his 60s but he has now de-aged to his late 40s/early 50s. And the inversion comes again when 50-year-old Daisy comes face-to-face with a Benjamin in his 20s, and sees how He Is All Grown Down.
    Benjamin: She was a girl when I left, and a woman had taken her place. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
  • Shown Their Work: Daisy talks about Agnes de Mille on her date with Benjamin. When he goes to see her performing, the show she's dancing in is Carousel. The sequence is the dream ballet, which was indeed choreographed by Agnes de Mille.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: David Fincher in the DVD commentary uses a Precision F-Strike it seems every chance he gets. In fact, he seems to swear more than the characters in the movie.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Benjamin and Daisy, despite their everlasting love for each other are destined not to be together because of Benjamin's condition.
  • Sweet Home Alabama: A majority of the film is set in New Orleans during a timescale that spans most of the 20th century and it completely avoids the negative Deep South portrayal found in some works, instead portraying a rather idealized version of the city where black people and white people largely live peacefully together and Southern Hospitality is in abundance. The only part of the film that shows an even slightly dark side of the city is when Captain Mike takes Benjamin to the Red Light District, but even then it's portrayed as being the liberal version of the trope than the pitiful or hostile version. Perhaps a Justified Trope as the events of the film are narrated by Benjamin himself and seen through his eyes and he led a fairly sheltered life growing up due to his condition so he may be something of an Unreliable Narrator.
  • Symbolism: The hummingbird is supposed to represent time going backwards as it is the only bird in nature that can fly backwards. It also symbolizes hope that Benjamin and Daisy will be together again as she sees a hummingbird in the final moments before she dies.
  • Tear Jerker: In-Universe. Caroline breaks down in tears when she reads Benjamin's letters and postcards to her that he'd written over the years.
  • This Is My Story: Benjamin's memoirs (being read by Caroline) is the framing device of the whole film.
  • Token Black Friend: Ngunda Oti (or 'Little Man Oti') is this to Benjamin early in the movie, taking him out and probably showing him more of New Orleans than he'd ever seen in his very sheltered life up to then.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: They show a lot of the plot points.
  • Truth in Television: Developing aspects of aging at a young age is an actual genetic condition called progeria. However, it's not as severe as shown in the movie, with a child born resembling an old man, and people with the condition age forwards rather than backwards.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Benjamin throws up at home after his father gets him drunk, much to Queenie's displeasure.
  • Wham Line: "I'm pregnant." And it's not long after this that it's revealed Benjamin was Caroline's father.
  • What If the Baby Is Like Me: Benjamin worries that his and Daisy's child will suffer from the same condition as him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nearly played straight with Elizabeth, who leaves a note to Benjamin saying, "It was nice to have met you" and then disappears from the story. Later averted when Benjamin sees her being interviewed on the television following finally completing her goal of swimming across the English Channel, in her 60's no less.
  • Younger Than They Look: Benjamin starts out as an elderly looking man-child (a lot younger than he looks), but ends as the opposite.

"Some people were born to sit by a river. Some get struck by lightning. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people — dance."

Alternative Title(s): The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button