Apr 24, 2015

Alternative to What: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008)

Brad Pitt
Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
- Alternative To -
The Age of Adaline (2015)

If there is one thing that fascinates human beings, it is the concept of aging. For some, it is the idea of infinite youth. Others find fascination in exploring the life that was lost. With this weekend's The Age of Adaline, there's another story about aging in a different way. Surrounded by a love story, it focuses on a woman who suddenly stops aging in her late 20's and begins to experience the 20th century through an odd glimpse. It is a story that may serve just as much of a history lesson as it is a romance about finding the one you truly love. It sounds like a silly premise and rightfully so. The trailers have been baffling audiences for months and the film was pushed back from a January release. The question isn't so much what will happen, but what triggers the ending.
Likewise, there was an even more complicated and curious situation going on in 2008 with the groundbreaking The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It was the story of a man who ages backwards and experiences life in a sort of reverse. With imagery of clocks and a bookend narration by a patient in a hospital during Hurricane Katrina, it becomes far more complicated than the F. Scott Fitzgerald story actually was. Where that story stuck strictly to the "case," the film pads it out with experiences and character moments that are explored beautifully through state of the art special effects and philosophical narration from Brad Pitt as the titular Benjamin Button.
One of the interesting additions also comes in the fact that he now has a few romantic entanglements. He befriends a woman who makes up the central romance of the story and spends years returning to her. The chemistry is very much the expected romantic drama material, except that they are aging in different directions and are only directly compatible for one small and fleeting portion of the film. It is the crux of the movie, especially in the third act when Button goes from self-reliant to the infantile child who has nothing really to offer. He is helpless and thus relies on those that loved him to take care of him. 

Between these events is an epic that focuses on his time working on boats and doing odd jobs. There's a vast amount of characters that give him an insight into life. Through these moments, the film's philosophical core becomes more clear and the study of destiny is centralized. It is a funny topic and one that is occasionally explored in the absurdest of manners. However, in between all of this is a charismatic performance with an even more charismatic special effects team that made Pitt look like every age outside of his physical range. It is an astounding story that even if it can't be appreciated as a narrative, should be cemented as a look at how to use effects to emphasize story instead of make pointless additions.
It has for the most part been reserved to the sidelines of director David Fincher's career, who has gone on to more personal and character-driven stories such as The Social Network and Gone Girl. He doesn't seem to provide the heart that he gave to this story. In fact, it does seem like an odd and personal departure from every other film he has done. However, it is a towering triumph that works because of his style and his focus on detail. He has since become a trickster of camera shots and a lot is owed to this film. However, it does manage to explore aging and romance in ways that few other films can capture without seeming the least bit silly.
So even if The Age of Adaline doesn't end up being the most thoughtful exploration of aging, there's a chance that it will be entertaining and provide another unique glimpse into the 20th century. It may also be hard for some to not compare these two films simply because of their take on time and how it influences us personally. Either way, the study of aging will continue to fascinate audiences and leave us finding ways to explain our passions and regrets in new cinematic styles.  We may know how these stories progress, but we likely don't know how they end, which will keep them interesting long after their theatrical release.

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