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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Never, quite possibly, in the history of the American cinema has a bigger, baggier monster been brought to birth and flourishing -- thirteen Academy Award nominations! -- from a more nugatory source than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Scott Fitzgerald's short story of 1920 is the slightest of jeux d'esprit, an avowed "experiment" based on Mark Twain's observation that it is a pity that the best part of life comes first and the worst last. To Fitzgerald, this proved the excuse for a joke, and a very slight one. In my edition of his short stories, the editor, Matthew Bruccoli, apologizes for that slightness by writing that, as he and (presumably) Fitzgerald see it, "the challenge of fantasy is to make impossible events convincing." Not anymore it isn't! It's simply to revel in the fantasy and convincing be damned -- which I, for one, don't call much of a challenge.

It should not be surprising, then, that one of the messages of this message-laden film -- they had to put something in it to make up for Fitzgerald's lack of substance -- is precisely that fantasy is as good as reality. Or, to put it as the not-aging-but-youthening hero, the eponymous Mr. Button (Brad Pitt), does in one of his frequent, heart-tugging voiceovers, "Anything is possible." Americans, or at least American movie-audiences, love to be told things like this, even though they are patently untrue. Lots of things may be possible but there are also a very great many which are not -- one of which is the birth of a child who is an old man and ages backwards. That's just not how nature works. Everybody knows this. Hollywood amuses itself by pretending that what everybody knows isn't true. The mystery is why it should amuse anyone else.

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