Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Movie Called "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"...

At first, I tended to agree with Roger Ebert. He gave this newly released film starring Brad Pitt only two and a half stars even though it's being promoted as a sure thing for the Oscars. Anything that starts out with a cancer death-bed scene and a dead man's journal as the framing device can not be good. Perhaps it is because, as a minister, I've been through enough real ones, but dramatic/untimely/extended movie deaths have been a huge turn-off to me since "Love Story." Especially hospital ones. Add to that the fact that this one was taking place in a hospital in New Orleans, just as Katrina was hitting the city, and you have a recipe for disaster... the movie kind, not the hurricane kind.

Don't worry.. I won't give away the big surprise, because there really isn't one! It's a film based upon the conceit that a man's life is lived in reverse. Born old, he ages to infancy. We should be moved to some insights about life, death, and all that's in between, no? Instaed we go away thinking about how cute Brad Pitt was back in the Thelma & Louise days. I fell asleep halfway through (we happen to be on the Gulf Coast, rebuilding a house felled by the real Hurricane Katrina) and found out later on Wikipedia what happened in the middle. Strangely enough, I didn't lose the thread when I awoke 15 or 20 minutes along. Let's just say I found the movie mildly interesting.

But then, as it ended, I looked at our 17 year old exchange student, a German girl named Anke, who was nest to me in the theatre. She was sobbling. And next to Anke, my own daughter Marjorie was in tears. I touched Anke's cheek. It was wet! Now THIS was curious. I'd not seen the girl cry since she arrived in August. Homesickness, calls from Mum, the second anniversary of her father's death, Christmas in a foreign land, illness & soccer injuries.. all had passed with nary a tear. But now she was sobbing. The girls continued to cry as we left the theatre, found the rest of our team (who were not sobbing after seeing "Seven Pounds") and walked to our van. They had a beautiful cry! I envied them. I wish that curious movie had moved me to tears. I need a cry, too. Sometimes the good cry is worth the price of admission. All I got was a nap!

The literature fiend/English major/theologian in me wanted to discover some redeeming depth in this mess. All I could think was that it was like a sermon that tries to do way too much, and ends up doing exactly nothing. (I'm thinking of some of my own! )

In addition to the cancer-mother-daughter-farewell-Katrina thing, there was the whole prelude about the clock that was built by a man whose son was lost in the war... a clock that ran backwards! He wished that time could rewind itself so that dead soldiers could get up and live again. At the end of the movie the water from Katrina comes in to the basement where the clock is stored, and, presumably, stops it running backwards (I hope that's not the big surprise). Then there was Benjamin's father, who makes buttons! He comes back into Benjamin's life sporadically, and leaves him lots of money when he dies. I guess that explains why BB doesn't really need to have a real job. I've been puzzling this all out since last night, and it's taking way too much brain energy. I now understand how sermons that take on too many themes and have too many layers can be annoying and disconcerting to people! So all was not lost, for me!

I did love one part of the film. There was an old-age home in New Orleans where Benjamin was raised by Black parents who found him. (Writing this makes it seem even more contrived than watching it). It was the best place ever! The old folks, all white, accepted the old man baby who became a baby old man. The Black folks who ran the place were saintly. Somewhere in that house is the heart of the film for me. I'll be thinking about it today, and wondering what happened to the folks who were still there when Katrina hit... while sawing wood and toting boards for a real house. I am curious about what the movie meant. To be continued.....