You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.
Benjamin Button’s is a curious case, indeed! Born as World War 1 ends and a new clock in the New Or leans train station is made to run backward, the baby is somehow 85 years old, even though the body is tiny. From what I have read, this is very different from the 1920s short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which the man/baby emerges fully grown with a beard (Figure that out anatomically!), and can read an encyclopedia He then regresses over the years until he has to be bottle-fed. In the film version the tiny baby has the features of an old man, so that the grieving father (the mother having died in child birth) is so shocked by the baby’s appearance that he wraps him in a blanket and leaves him, along with a small sum of money, on the steps of a nursing home.
The home is run by an African American woman, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), who raises the boy in love and faith, even though he is white and she does not fully understand what is happening to him. Although Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is the ultimate outsider, he fits in well in the home because they too are outsiders as far as society is concerned, cast off and forgotten in their decrepit state. Not all are such, as Daisy (played by Ellie Fanning as a girl and Cate Blanchett as a woman) regularly visits an aged relative, and thus meets Benjamin, beginning a life-long friendship. As he grows older/younger the two part ways, Benjamin going off to sea and then, during World War in Russia, he carries on an affair with the wife of a British spy (Tilda Swinton). Daisy pursues a ballet career, and when after the war Benjamin shows up in New York, is cool to him. However, they soon are lovers, with the continually younger Benjamin, once they give birth to a child, finally faced with the decision as whether to stay or to leave because he realizes that his condition eventually would mean that Daisy would be faced with dealing with two infants.
There are many moving moments in this epic tale (far transcending Fitzgerald’s short tale), but I had trouble suspending my disbelief. The magic realism of many Latin American stories I can accept, but this was a bit much, despite the fine acting by the two principals and the wizardry of the special effects, grafting Brad Pitt’s facial features onto the body of a boy actor. However, the film is a poignant example of the difficult, often sacrificial decisions we sometimes must make in life, and of how ephemeral are our happiest moments, the passage of time flowing on so relentlessly. Somehow, despite the strong language and love scenes, this film was awarded a PG-13, rather than the R which it deserves, which might make this difficult for some church groups to accept.
There definitely are spoilers below, so beware.
1. The premise of the film is pretty far out: what difficulties do you have with it, if any?
2. The film is book-ended with the couple’s grown daughter sitting with the aged Daisy and reading her father’s journal in a New Orleans hospital while Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on the city. What does this add to the meaning of the story? Especially the shot of flood water entering the basement where the old stored clock sits?
3. Also, what does the prologue about the father who lost his son in WW 1 making a clock to run backward have to do with Benjamin’s aging backward? Do you think that this was the clockmaker’s attempt to roll back time and regain his son? When have you had such a desire?
4. What do you think of the humorous incidents, such as the resident struck by lightning seven times? Or the church scene and the “cure,” with the strange aftermath and Benjamin’s quoting the Bible, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away” ?
5. What do you think of Benjamin’s father’s coming to him late in life? What does the scene in which they watch the sunrise over the lake add to the story?
6. How is Benjamin’s decision to leave Daisy an act of love? What does he do before leaving? How does his return years later add to our understanding of “the cross” he bore?
7. Some critics have compared writer Eric Roth’s script to another film that he wrote, Forest Gump. How is this similar, and yet very different?
8. We see a humming bird in two scenes: what do you think this means?
9. What does this film lead you to think about time and God? Reflect on Psalm 90 in regards to Benjamin’s observation, “I was thinking, nothing lasts, and what a shame that is.” Is it really such a “shame” ?
10. Look up the great hymn based on the Psalm, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”