The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film based on the short story by Scott Fitzgerald. The film is about a boy named Benjamin who is born in an old man’s body and physically ages backwards. Because of his physical appearance he is often treated differently to others, however he still goes through similar experiences to those aging normally such as learning to walk, hair growth and missing curfew for the first time. The director, David Fincher, puts a lot of time and emphasis on these points and other experiences common with those growing up as it reflects the nature of life. The nature of life is about how all living things go through the same major processes and events, ultimately being death. In this essay the idea of the nature of life and the cinematographic techniques used to portray this idea shall be investigated. The extract to be investigated is the final scene where Daisy recounts the last couple of years of Benjamin’s life as he approaches death to her and Benjamin’s daughter, Caroline. This is followed by the death of Daisy herself in hospital and Benjamin’s recollection via montage of some of the people he knew and what they did with their lives. Some of the cinematographic techniques that are used to demonstrate the nature of life are symbolism, music, lighting and voice over narration which shall all be investigated in this essay.
In the Curious Case of Benjamin Button director Fincher has used symbolism to portray the idea of ‘the nature of life’. A major symbol we are exposed to in the film as a whole and largely in this particular extract is the grand clock that runs counter-clockwise in the local train station. This clock was made by Monsieur Gateau, a blind clock maker who’s son died in WWI and in sadness of losing his son, built the clock intentionally running counter-clockwise, claiming to somehow hope that time could run backwards like it did on this clock so that he could be reunited with his son. The interest in this clock is that it was constructed just before the birth of Benjamin Button (the clock was made at the end of WWI, and Benjamin is born on the last day of WWI) who’s physical body runs backwards in time – the same as this clock. This makes the clock an important symbol that reinforces the message of Benjamin’s life that being: even though under extremely strange circumstances (in both cases ‘time’ is running backwards), life is still going to carry on giving you the same processes, events and milestones. For example even though this clock runs counter-clockwise, it still reaches 1,2,3,4 am once each day like any other clock, just like how Benjamin learns to walk, experiences hair growth and misses curfew for the first time just like any other human being. The overall message Fincher is trying to get across to us using symbolism is that there is a certain nature to life: In some aspects of life we can be vastly different but when it comes down to it we are actually all leading very similar lives, and experiencing very similar events and milestones.
The extract being investigated obtained background music that was intentionally saddening to portray the incapacity of Benjamin, Daisy’s emotions regarding Benjamin’s condition and how this reflects the nature of life. Up until Benjamin’s montage, the extract obtained soft background music that used a lot of minor keys (a common feature of ‘sad’ music) to further pronounce Daisy’s emotions about Benjamin’s ageing-like circumstances. However the music wasn’t as soft and depressing as it could have been – Very much like that of an elderly person with dementia, Parkinson’s or some other age-related disease: On one hand you are sad that they have ended up like this but on the other hand you are grateful that up until now they lead a happy, full life and that with age some kind of disease or illness is nearly inevitable. This is the exact same feeling that the director is trying to portray to us and that Daisy has towards Benjamin because Benjamin is going through a process very similar, if not the same as, those with an age-related condition. Benjamin’s brain is becoming ‘younger’ and thus becoming more and more incapable. This further reflects the nature of life, where all people can appear as vastly different but actually all have similar lives – in this case being that as Benjamin ages he becomes more and more incapable the same as anyone who ages normally.
To further back up the aspect of the nature of life discussed in the previous paragraph, strategic lighting is used by director Fincher. The lighting in the first part of the extract reflects the mood set which is a mood commonly felt and attempted to be created by a retirement village, which reflects the nature of life as Benjamin is in the kind of state as someone who would be in a retirement village (gradually becoming incapable mentally and physically with age) and effectively is in a retirement village where Daisy is his carer. When we are introduced to ‘old’ Benjamin and old Daisy, the scene is lit with a high key, warm yellow light partially lit by a lamp within the mise en scene. This is important as high key lighting reveals more of the characters facial expressions (Daisy’s sadness) and provides a more ‘light’ feeling that retirement villages aim to give to their residents. Retirement village are warm and friendly – a feeling that is portrayed by this soft lighting. The yellow colour that the room is lit up by is also purposeful, bringing the audience to feel that the scene is happy, optimistic and enlightening – once again the feelings commonly associated with that of a retirement village. The reason that Fincher has used lighting that promotes a ‘retirement village like scene’ is to further relate the story of Benjamin’s life to the general nature of life. Once again the audience is made to feel like Benjamin, although very much different to your average old person, still needs the assistance of an old person, his brain is failing him like that of an old person and he is treated by others (Daisy) in the same way as an old person and therefor a nature of life where all living things lead very similar lives exists.
The final cinematographic technique to be investigated in this essay is how the use of voice over narration by director Fincher illustrates the nature of life. In the Curious Case of Benjamin Button narration is used to enhance our visual interpretation of Benjamin’s incapability with age and thus the nature of life. In the scene being investigated it is Daisy who is doing the voice over narration which shall be investigated now. Firstly, Daisy says “As he forgot how to walk – how to talk” in reference to Benjamin as he grows ‘old’. This statement shows that because of Benjamin’s reversing age condition he has lost the ability to do simple tasks. This reflects the nature of life as all people lose the ability to complete tasks as they age meaning that whilst Benjamin is very unusual, he is still a living human and therefor shall still go through the same processes as other living humans that being in this case losing the ability to do simple tasks with age.
In the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, director Fincher has tried to portray the idea of the nature of life to the audience through many cinematographic techniques. But what for? What does it matter if we all lead lives that appear as being vastly different, however we really are all just the same? Well, the message teaches us in the audience that we all must be happy with what we have and make the most of it because no matter how disadvantaged and challenging we may find life at times, we all experience these common events – the loss, the grief, the disappointment. They are things that everybody has to go through with and put up with at some stage – It isn’t the end of the world but an experience that we can learn from and take the knowledge to use in our future lives; just like everybody else has. The nature of life isn’t all negative though. If we all experience common milestones and go through common processes then we can say that we are all presented with common opportunities and challenges to make the most of. What you need to succeed is all out there waiting for you, so whatever your challenge may be – get out there and get amongst.
In conclusion the Curious Case of Benjamin Button based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is used to illustrate the nature of life using the cinematographic techniques of symbolism, music, lighting and voice over narration. The symbol of the backwards clock in the train station represents how even things that appear as vastly different reach common milestones (1 o’clock, 2 o’clock for example). The background music from the extract is used to make the audience feel Daisy’s sadness yet understanding of the inevitable – the exact feeling of those dealing with an age-related condition that therefor represents the nature of life as Daisy shares this common experience with others looking after ‘old’ people. The lighting is strategically used to set a soft mood and the type of lighting reflects the emotions of those within the mise en scene and how these emotions are common emotions for those working with the elderly and therefor represents the nature of life. Finally, the voice over narration is used to illustrate the incapability that comes with age and how this is yet another common process that Benjamin shares with others. The use of the nature of life idea in this film is important as it gives the audience a reason to make the most of life as despite what may seem as a set back initially (for example aging in reverse), we all are given the same events, challenges, opportunities and milestones to make the most of.