David Fincher on 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

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David Fincher’s new film, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, marks something of a departure for the director of ‘Se7en’, ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Zodiac’: it’s a sweeping, generation-spanning, epic drama in the grand old Hollywood tradition and is a showcase for new technology and make-up effects as we watch Bard Pitt’s main character age – backwards, from an old baby, to a young geriatric – over several decades.

You went into the film with the special-effects technology still at an experimental stage. Was that wise?

‘It was a calculated risk. The problem is trying to recreate, mathematically, light bouncing off a living organism. If you’re trying for a recreation of a human being, there’s not enough computing power in the world. So, instead you say: I need a medium shot of a guy that doesn’t move very much, he’s just going to be listening and nodding his head, I’m going to give you all of the data of that head movement and he can even have his hat on and his collar up. Once you start limiting all the things you have to do, you start to discover what can be achieved.’

What was it in Eric Roth’s script that first affected you?

‘I just liked the writing. I liked the way people talked to one another. I felt like I knew that guy, Benjamin. I thought that he was a very complex character, very simply allowed to exist. I love how lost he is at times, and then how sure he is at others, and how that backfires on him. It seemed very human to me.’

What steps did you take to prevent the film becoming overly sentimental?

‘I had Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett watching my back. These are two ruthless people, their bullshit radars are as good, if not better, than mine. ‘I’m averse to that stuff anyway. If you can screen it on the side of a mug, is it wisdom? But the great thing about what Eric Roth does is that he gives you these chewy scenes that could go one way or another. It could go mawkish, but you couldn’t with Brad, you couldn’t with Cate. There’s a scene where Benjamin leaves his child, which is a perfect example. Every agent who saw it, every manager, every executive was saying that he cannot leave this child. Then Cate Blanchett said, “Yeah he can, as long as I’m awake.” And it’s true. He puts that key down and he looks over and she’s watching him. She never blinks, and he sees her and then he walks away. That was her idea.’

You avoid racial politics in the film. Was that a conscious decision?

‘I think Louisiana was the first state where African-Americans could own property. There are prejudices, but New Orleans is an unbelievable melting-pot. Spanish, Creole, French, black. The French Quarter is what it is because of that. It is unbelievably progressive. So, no, we didn’t feel it had any place. We would have had to go out of our way to put it in there.’

The script takes a number of detours.

‘I think detours is a kind word but yeah… tangents! Some beautiful meditations on life and love and loss. ‘The amazing thing about Eric is he’s this cantankerous old Jewish guy with this love for the people of the South. He has a wonderful ear for the idiosyncrasies of humanity. He loves the absurdist nature of chance and fate, and I felt that he had described this world that was sort of funny and heartbreaking and hopeful and sad.’ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ opens on Feb 6.

Author: Tom Huddleston


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