Thursday, February 26, 2009

Benjamin Millionaire

Warning: plot spoilers ahead.

Here’s the plot of a movie I saw recently:

The story is told in a series of flashbacks by the male character.

A boy and girl meet as small children, and develop an intense friendship. It is clear that they are soul mates, destined to be together.

The events of life force a separation; but throughout their lives, fate keeps bringing them together – only to separate them again.

Until finally, against all odds, they unite one more time.

And then she takes care of him until he dies as a baby, and she croaks, and New Orleans floods.

OR they joyfully dance on the train station platform, along with their kid-selves, in a visual metaphor of their journey.

You see, this movie was released twice this year (and got two nominations for Best Picture Oscar), once under the title THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and then again as SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

There are of course major differences between the two movies.

For one, SLUMDOG doesn’t rely on special effects, while BUTTON is a technical marvel – a brilliant mix of effects and make-up.

Too brilliant, perhaps, as the technical masks what’s missing: heart.

In fact, the technical wizardry may be responsible for one of the (many) big blunders in the film: not following through on its own premise.

The big idea is this: a man is born into an old body, and the body ages backwards, while the man inside ages forward.

The best scenes are near the beginning, as we watch what appears to be an old man looking with wonder on the new world. The juxtaposition of old flesh and new soul is delightful and endearing.

However, for anyone waiting to see what it is like for an old soul to inhabit a young body, this movie fails to deliver. The filmmakers gave up on the premise, instead allowing “young” Ben to be a thirty year old in spirit, or a twenty-something traipsing around the world on a post-college find-himself-tour, or a bratty kid with no sense of having lived a full life.

(Why does he have “old person” diseases on both sides of his aging?)

None of these incarnations come with an old soul – and such a missed opportunity is painful.

(They even have a shot of some guy showing Ben how to fix his motorcycle. Shouldn't it be the other way around? The guy who has been on the earth for eighty years showing the younger-but-looks-older guy how to fix things?)

In fact, the whole of Ben’s “wisdom” years, from say fifty to eighty, are covered in a single, mos montage.

Why do I blame the tech?

It just seems too coincidental that the period of time that requires no computer and make-up magic to make Button look like Brad is the part of the movie that the movie makers themselves were too bored with to explore.

Of course the big differences between the BUTTON and SLUMDOG are thematic.

To be continued…

Just my thoughts,


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