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Present Tense: David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

By stripping away the political context that made Forrest Gump a pop culture hot potato, this film isolates and magnifies its story’s emotional appeal.

Matt Zoller Seitz

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Present Tense: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Photo: Paramount Pictures

David Fincher’s seventh feature, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, about a man struggling to hold onto his love for a woman named Daisy while aging backwards from old age to infancy, is by any reckoning a film too huge to ignore. It has a heavyweight cast, including Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and a massive $150 million budget that required the collaboration of two studios, Paramount and Warner Bros.; it was released at the end of 2008 at the height of awards season and eventually garnered 13 Academy Award nominations, including nods for Fincher’s direction and for Pitt’s performance in the title role.

Yet the film, just released on DVD through Paramount and the Criterion Collection, was not an unqualified popular or critical success, earning less than its budget at the box office and dividing reviewers. The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern called it “a one of a kind meditation on mortality, time’s inexorable passage and the fleeting sweetness of love.” The opposite end of the spectrum was represented by Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, who wrote of the Se7en and Zodiac director: “Giving Fincher this project is like asking the great French humanist director Jean Renoir to do a slasher movie.” Turan’s sense that the film was too coldly perfect and too obsessed with mood, production design, and special effects technique—particularly the CGI that aged Pitt’s character backward—was echoed by many detractors.

To the rest of the text or view the video essay, click here.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

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