I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons yesterday. I cried. But I don't know why. My difficulty in reading the movie could be just another case of the way I'm filmically challenged. Or it could be an effect of an insubstantial film held together by curiosity regarding how Brad Pitt will look at his next age. Or maybe something else. At any rate, I felt quite emotional at the end of the film. It's almost as if the film elicited feeling without eliciting a particular kind of feeling, a feeling of this rather than that (like the fast food ad that markets 'flavor' without saying anything about the sort of flavor).
The baby dies. The old man is born. The baby symbolizes not an open future (as part of a reproductive, heteronormative social form) but the end of a life. The old man suggests the new, unpredictable, unexpected, the possibility of a life that does not and cannot conform to narrative conventions. What is old is new again.
The future belongs to the old. The young are dependent, burdens, harbingers of certain death. Is this reversal a hint of the geriatric power of the baby boomers? Or does the reversal just confirm the normativity of what it reverses?
What sort of fantasy has the man as his lover's baby, dying in the arms of his lover-become-mother? What sort of fantasy celebrates the prowess of a male body in its seventies or eighties? And what sort of fantasy views abandonment of one's partner and child as an act of noble sacrifice and responsibility?
It would be wrong for me to say I'm disappointed in the movie, although I continue to wonder about the lack of questioning and reflection manifest in Benjamin as he becomes a young man and those around him age. More striking to me was the absence of connection and responsibility, the singularity with which the character lived with the body of a young man and the memories of an old man (not to mention the difficulty there could be of making such a distinction--what kind of relation could there be between a brain inscribed by experience and the physicality of a child's brain?). The separation suggests a vision of mature masculinity as necessarily isolated and separate, as closed of in itself. Is that lack or loss the stress of feeling the film induces?
Or might it also be the woman's loss of companionship. Her lover returns as her child. She cares for him as he becomes ever more difficult and dependent, with no memories and increasingly limited capacity to communicate.