Exploring David Fincher's World in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The big east coast and west coast newspapers have both delivered an update on David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button today, in the first of many holiday movie season features. The LA Times has a few photos showing Brad Pitt's old-to-young age progression, while the NY Times has an extensive article written on the film, outlining its development and so much more. Each update is as fascinating as the other, so I hope you can spare a few minutes today in the world of David Fincher, exploring what could be this year's Best Picture, or at the very least, one of the best films this year. Given I'm still very excited to see this, I couldn't help but pull together some of my favorite quotes.
As most should hopefully know by now, Benjamin Button is an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story written in 1922. Over the years, many different version of the film have been in development, including a draft of a screenplay written by Robin Swicord. However, Fincher explains why it was Eric Roth's version that he was drawn to: "When I read the Robin Swicord draft, I thought, this is a love story. But when I read the Eric Roth draft, I thought, this is a love story, but it's really about death, about the total frailty of humanity. He's a character whose entire childhood is defined by the people that die around him and by how comfortable he gets with that. Imagine that you're raised with a bunch of 85-year-olds. They're not sweating the same things teenagers are. And that's where he learns everything."
One of my favorite quotes from the NY Times piece comes from Taraji P. Henson, who plays Queenie (seen just below, to the left), Benjamin's adoptive mother in the film. "In the short story, Queenie was just a nanny," she explains. "But when Eric Roth adapted the story into a screenplay, he made Queenie the surrogate mother. To me, that one moment where she tells Benjamin that people are going to judge you by the way you look sometimes, they're not quite going to know how to receive you — that's an African-American woman raising an African-American child; that's a conversation I've had with my son several times." She adds that it's "actually my favorite, most endearing moment in the movie."
"You're looking at Brad's CG face on another person's body," Fincher explains of the above photog and technique they used during some of the film. "To my way of thinking, it all has to be a knock out. You have to make it all work. The whole thing that we called the hand offs — you've got to make it all seem like the same guy, and one of the things that was key was Brad is in every frame. The CG stuff is motion-capture, and it has to be his performance." Making sure Pitt's likeness can be instantly recognized in the film was one the biggest challenges for Fincher, who even has a background in visual effects. "You need to make sure that if people empathize with Benjamin it's because his malady, or his curse, is something you believe in. But it's also the cornerstone of where he's going and why he behaves the way that he does."
In addition to Benjamin and Queenie, the film is made up a handful of other unforgettable characters, most notably Cate Blanchett as Benjamin's one true love Daisy and his affair, Elizabeth Abbott, played by Tilda Swinton. Obviously accounting for the ages of all of them individually while shooting each scene was tough, as any filmmaker can attest. "It was a lot of just figuring it out," Fincher admits. "The nice thing is you have a script, so you work with that and say this is what has to happen in the story. It's just that juggling of technique and what is in service of the story — the age-old film problem." I'm sure in the end we'll be so deeply invested in the film that we won't even be thinking about the aging process and whether or not he pulled it off - which again is a testament to Fincher's abilities to pull us into his world.
Academy Award winning screenwriter Eric Roth puts the heartfelt finishing touches on this introduction to Benjamin Button by explaining his own touching inspiration for the over framework. "I wanted to tell the story through somebody else's eyes," Roth says. "It might have had something to do with my mother lying in her hospital bed, although she was at home, wondering if there had been a story to tell that would have helped define her, something from her life that I might not have known about." A strikingly similar fear express by Albert Finney on his death bed in Tim Burton's Big Fish and a theme that I'm anxious to see play out in Fincher's potential masterpiece. It's only one of the many emotional elements of the film, in addition to love and the experiences of life, that I believe will make it such an amazing movie in the end.
Roth finally encapsulates his aspirations for Benjamin Button in the end: "I'm hoping the movie gives people permission to kind of grieve together, in a good way. We're living through the death of our parents and seeing our children get older and have their own lives and become adults. Yet I'm hoping that the movie will resonate with people who are younger, too, that it will speak somehow to a younger generation and let them see what aging is about, even though it may not be foremost on their minds."