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I will never forget her blue eyes...
As Hurricane Katrina prepares to hit the city of New Orleans, former ballerina Daisy Ford is on her deathbed. She asks her daughter to read to her the diary of a man she once knew. This man, Benjamin, then takes over the narration of his story.
He is born an old, shrunken man and ages backward, becoming younger and younger over the years. Throughout his life he experiences the changing times and meets many different people who help to shape his world.
The movie follows him along all the drama, romance, tears, and laughs that a man who ages backward could possibly have. Well, apart from the bits where he's young enough to enjoy life.
The Movie Provides Examples Of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The original short story was a choppy 11-chapter farce (a meager 27 pages long). The film version turned that into a 3-hour dramatic epic.
- And the story in turn was based on a brief remark by Mark Twain.
- Age-Appropriate Angst: Explored, as Benjamin's outlook on life is always sharply contrasted to what "age" he looks at the moment.
- Arc Words: "You never know what's coming for you," a phrase uttered by various characters that highlights one of the film's many themes, this one dealing with the surprises, the unexpected events in one's life that take someone in a different direction than planned. The phrase really describes Benjamin's entire life.
- Better by a Different Name: The basic story plot (minus the backward aging) is incredibly similar to Forrest Gump.
- Brick Joke: Elizabeth. She talks about how she tried to swim the English Channel once but wasn't able to, and that she never tried again. She disappears from the hotel leaving only a vague note to apparently never be seen again. Then, much later on in the film, Benjamin sees her being interviewed on TV. What is she being interviewed for? Being the oldest person to swim the English Channel. (One of the film's main themes is how one can never be too old or too young to live your life.)
- Celebrity Resemblance
- Death by Childbirth: Benjamin's mother dies this way in the beginning of the movie.
- Development Hell: At various points during production, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Spike Jonze were going to direct, and Tom Cruise, John Travolta, or even Jack Nicholson was going to star. Like David Fincher said, nobody wanted to make a $150 million film with the idea of death at its center.
- It had been bouncing around as potential film for decades in fact. It just took this long for someone to A) turn the bizarre, lifetime-spanning plot into a workable film narrative, and B) find a way to age a main character that much but keep it clearly the same character.
- Door Step Baby: After Benjamin's mother died giving birth, his father would abandon him on the doorstop of some random house.
- Everything Fades: Benjamin in the short story, who is strongly implied just to disappear from existence in lieu of actually dying. The film changes this to Ben in the body of an infant dying comfortably in his former wife's arms.
- Framing Device: The life of Benjamin is told by a old woman on her death bed to her daughter in the hours before Hurricane Katrina.
- Foot Focus: Daisy dances barefoot quite a lot.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Daisy.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Tom is Benjamin's biological father.
- I Am Very British: Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth.
- In Name Only: The Movie differs quite a bit from the original story.
- Magic Realism: Exactly how did he get born with such a Curious Case? Well, in the short story it was explicitly stated to be caused by the backwards clock starting to spin the exact second he was born. In the movie, the relevance of the clock was only hinted at. As Katrina makes its way into New Orleans, the clock starts moving backwards again...
- May-December Romance: which progresses into a July-October, then an October-July, then December-May romance. But while Benjamin's body ages backwards, his mind still ages forwards, so he and Daisy, born around the same time, are always the same age "in spirit". Nevertheless, the only time that they really get intimate is the period in which they meet in the middle.
- Merlin Sickness: Benjamin Button, obviously.
- Miniature Senior Citizens: Benjamin Button at just a few years old.
- One-Scene Wonder: "Did I ever tell you that I was struck by lightning seven times?"
- Politically-Correct History: Played straight most of the time, but subverted in Ngunda Oti's backstory. (He once was held in the cage of a zoo!)
- Prepositional Phrase Equals Coolness
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The ending of the movie uses the tune of Scott Joplin's Bethena.
- Ramming Always Works: During the brief time Benjamin's in the war, his ship rams and sinks and enemy vessel.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: Everyone who finds out about Ben's condition seems to automatically decide it's best to keep it under their hat. This doesn't seem too hard to explain away for most of the movie (the only people who spend enough time around him to notice are his adoptive parents, his true love, and not-much-time-left retirees) but the doctor at the end when he's a child with dementia seems to work it out and tell no-one. Never mind how revolutionary a scientific discovery the guy is, it's no big deal.
- Running Gag: "Did I ever tell you that I was struck by lightning seven times?" followed by sepia footage of a man being, well, struck by lightning.
- Sassy Black Woman: Queenie, though she is good-natured and motherly, as well
- Setting Update: The short story starts slightly before the American Civil War, and Benjamin fights during Spanish American War. The film moves it forward a few decades, with Ben being born at the end of WWI and fighting in WWII instead.
- Sweet Home Alabama
- Trailers Always Spoil
- Truth in Television: Developing aspects of aging at a young age is an actual genetic condition called progeria. However, it's not as severe as shown in the movie, with a child born resembling an old man, and people with the condition age forwards rather than backwards.
- Victorious Childhood Friend / Unlucky Childhood Friend: Daisy is a weird mix of the two.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Benjamin throws up at home after his father gets him drunk.
- What If the Baby Is Like Me?
- Younger Than They Look / Older Than They Look: By large and obvious amounts, Benjamin is his own weird mix of these two. He starts out as an elderly looking man-child (a lot younger than he looks) and by the end is a senior citizen with dementia inhabiting the body of a small child (radically older than he looks).