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Some Ramblings - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Youth is often lost on the young, goes an old saying. The touch of envy in that statement suggests that it would have come from the ripe mind of an ailing body. As man settles into the calm quarters of the twilight lane, after moving away from the boisterous alley of the exuberant youth, a gradual realization dawns upon him revealing the cruel nature of knowledge - it never comes in handy when it is most needed, and it only beckons when the heels cool off, and importantly, it is only fit for passing down. If wisdom is the sum total of experiences (successes and failures) and experiences depend on the passage of time, it is no surprise that age and wisdom are at constant odds with one another. And then, there is wishful thinking, that always starts with "What if...". What if one was blessed with the discretion to do the right thing at the right time, say the most appropriate words at the most opportune moments, conduct himself in a manner that belies his age (in a good way, that is)? And what about all the moments of regret, when actions and opportunities pass each other only briefly, exchanging just fleeting glances, because one hadn't had the wisdom of bringing them together and making the introductions? And the constant complaint in life remains, if only one knew before-hand, what he would be truly losing/missing after the fact in unrealized dreams, in un-kept promises, and in an unfulfilled life. There is only a brief period in every man's life when age and experience meet in the middle, have a cordial talk and express mutual respect for one another. Once that short window span closes down, they are back in the old game trying to chase each other and trying to pin the blame on one another. The premise of "The curious case of Benjamin Button" is indeed a curious one. What if one ages in the reverse - born old and decrepit, and die, after a full life, young and as an infant, which is just another way of saying, what if the flesh is willing when the mind is strong? What would one do with all the wisdom of experience and an able body to support it?

The regret of any aging life remains lost opportunities. They present a very rich palette of interesting themes from comedy to tragedy, not to mention, good drama in between. On one end is a movie like 'Groundhog day', a comedy, where the same day repeats in the life of a sour man, until he sweetens, slows down, understands and appreciates the little joys in even little things in life. Opportunities here do not just knock once and move along. They bang on the head repeatedly, knocking him over many a time, until he starts making amends. Trapped in an infinite loop of a never turning-over calendar, the sour man finally turns a leaf over in his own life, making new acquaintances, learning new things, and making good out of a bad situation (along the lines of, when the mind is in its right place, it makes a heaven out of hell). On the other side of the spectrum, are the tragedies of innumerable love stories, where the men and women wasted away their lives ruing in regret of not acting at the right moment, of not speaking the right words, of letting go important chances. And there is those wishful cases, like in the movie 'Sliding Doors', where life branches out in a middle and proceeds along two parallel lines, observing the same lives in those parallel universes, making different decisions and facing different consequences. "The curious case..." stakes its ground in a similar territory. It poses a very interesting question. If a man starts out old and grows younger and younger every day, so that by the time he reaches the proverbial twilight age, he is at his best, physically and mentally, while the world around him has moved on in a natural fashion, what good is the boundless energy and the priceless wisdom, if his contemporary world isn't around anymore - his wife, his children, his friends and his compatriots. If in the country of the blind, the one-eyed is the king, is the sight a blessing or a curse?

With such an interesting premise and great many possibilities within it, the movie however fails spectacularly as the choice of subject, Benjamin Button, isn't special/interesting enough to realize the value of his great to reap any special dividends. Coming from the pen of the screenwriter of "Forrest Gump", Benjamin shares more than just a passing resemblance to Gump. From the initial setup (a guest house in Gump, an oldage home in Benjamin), the troubles of both Gump and Benjamin in taking the first steps (Gump because of polio and Benjamin because of his old age), the mentor figures in both their lives (Lt. Dan, the shrimp boat captain, in Gump and the tug-boat captain in Benjamin), the leading ladies (wild child Jenny in Gump, and wide-eyed Daisy in Benjamin), down the little things (the feather that floats away in Gump, and the little humming bird in Benjamin), the writer just couldn't shake away the Gump experience while penning Benjamin. Even though Gump himself was a slow-witted person, he had the fortune of brushing with the best of history, fortuitously placing himself in the midst of important events, like the Vietnam war, the Watergate scandal, the times of desegregation in the South and many such, thus making himself an unwitting participant in the glorious past. However, no such luck with Benjamin. He isn't stupid enough or smart enough to effect anything around him with his unique gift. He was born old, he grew strong and he died young. His epitaph must have been pretty simple enough, pretty much like the man. And the only real accomplishment of his life is sleeping with women of disproportionate age levels. When he is old (in his early years), he sleeps with younger women, when he becomes young (in his later life), he sleeps with older women. Talk about misplaced priorities. Since the movie was going to be a fantasy anyway, it would have served well, had a real historical figure, like an Einstein or a Hitler, be accorded this gift to see how the course of human history was altered because of this fresh perspective. Alas it wasn't meant to be, as all that the life of Benjamin had to show for are lost opportunities and ensuing regrets. And it didn't need a reverse aging process to have those. An ordinary life would have served just the same...

More Ramblings on films
Slumdog Millionaire
Quantom of Solace
The Dark Knight
Wall - E
The incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the kingdom of crystal skull
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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