In parts uplifting, melancholic, funny and heartbreakingly human, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' stands out as a testament to the human condition, to life and love, and how nothing truly lasts forever.
Attached by the most tenuous of threads to F Scott Fitzgerald's short story of the same name, the film benefits greatly by director David Fincher's genius of taking what is a jumping off point for a complete fantasy, ie a man who ages in reverse, and proceeding to play it as straight as possible.
As Hurricane Katrina gathers force outside a New Orleans hospital, the elderly Daisy (Blanchett) begs her daughter to read aloud her diary, which will recount the life and times of Benjamin Button (Pitt).
Benjamin, we are told, is a child "born of unusual circumstances" as World War I draws to a close. Horribly decrepit and seemingly terminally ill, the baby Benjamin is abandoned by his father on the steps of a nursing home, run by the ever-caring and Christian Queenie (Henson).
Over the first few years of his life Benjamin loses the arthritis, cataracts and other ailments of old age which he was born with, leaving him a seven-year-old boy in a 70-year-old body. It is at this time where he first meets Daisy, a granddaughter of one of the residents in the nursing home. They share an instant bond, and he confides to her that he is "not as old as he seems", with the accepting Daisy replying: "I know."
Leaving home aged 16, or 64, depending on what way you look at it, Benjamin sets off to find his way in the world, promising to write Daisy a postcard from wherever he goes. He gets a job as a boat-hand and although he initially keeps up his correspondence with Daisy, he stops writing when during World War II he meets Elizabeth (Swinton), the aging wife of a British spy, and they embark on an affair together.
This brief sub-plot is superbly crafted, with their fleeting romance reminding us, like so much else in the film, that everything must come to an end.
After Pearl Harbor is bombed, Elizabeth abruptly leaves, and Benjamin finds himself embroiled in World War II, his boat enlisted by the US. Although much of his crew are killed, Benjamin returns home to New Orleans, where his path will criss-cross with Daisy's, their relationship spluttering and starting as they both move closer towards parity in age.
Benjamin and Daisy are of course meant for each other, and begin a relationship knowing that their ages will only briefly be the same and then go in opposite directions.
Much has been made of Brad Pitt and the special effects that managed to bring Benjamin Button to life. It is hard to convey, however, just how eerily realistic those effects are. Pitt's performance as the older Button is flawless. He doesn't just move and look like he's 70, he is 70. It's a mark of his acting as much as of computer wizardry that the whole way through his life, up until he plays a much younger Button, it's impossible spot how this is achieved. Coincidentally, I'm sure a large portion of those buying tickets to see Brad Pitt, circa his twenties, really won't particularly mind how this is done.
The plot is as closely related to the F Scott Fitzgerald short story as that guy in Moneygall is to Barack Obama, and it's no harm either. The short story was one of Fitzgerald's quirkier, whimsical efforts, with no real substance to it. In this film, Fincher has created a masterpiece, one which can stand beside 'Se7en' or 'Fight Club', but yet young and old can both enjoy.
Fincher's penchant for dark humour and the surreal is still contained in the film - you just have to look a bit closer. In one particularly powerful montage the director connects a series of innocuous events - a man late for work, a ringing telephone - and shows how they can combine to make a life-changing one. It's a truly fascinating piece of cinema.
As surreal, funny, and unique as 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' is, the film rarely deviates from the sad and sobering theme that all things in life, especially love, are temporary. Although on paper this may seem like a rather depressing prospect, in truth it is a powerful reminder to fill your life with as many memorable moments as possible.