The Curious Case of Benjamin Button sticks out in David Fincher’s filmography like a sore thumb. Flanked by Zodiac on one side and The Social Network on the other, the romantic fantasy, loosely adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story of the same name, looks like it’s in danger of being mugged.
Earlier in his career, Fincher gave us Se7en and Fight Club, and later there would be The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. The perfectionist director is known for moody, downbeat, unblinkingly pessimistic takes on the human condition, and yet in 2008 he gave us this: an almost three hour long, magical realist love story that sees Brad Pitt, making his third collaboration with Fincher, as the titular character, a man born old who ages in reverse.
Born on Armistice Day in 1918, he lives through most of the 20th century, experiencing wealth and poverty, war and loss, with the key relationship in his life being with dancer Daisy Fuller, played by Cate Blanchett. Disciples of Tyler Durden were not amused.
And yet Benjamin Button, for all that it is perceived as the lightest of Fincher’s work, tackles themes just as heavy as his usual fare. Love. Loss. Mortality and the inevitability of death. The fragility of both human connection and human life. The inevitability of grief. The awe-inspiring and terrifying sweep and weight of time itself.