Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”: The forgotten hit of the master of thrillers

  • Oscar bait, i.e. films created for the love of the Oscars
  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – an unrealized project of great Hollywood creators. The director who finally managed to create the film was David Fincher
  • “The Curious Case of…” earned Fincher his first Oscar nomination. The film competed for the golden knight in 13 categories. Ultimately, he received three

The Oscars are the most popular film awards in the world. Even people who are not usually very interested in the film industry have heard about the golden knights. However, the most popular does not mean that the best of the best productions are awarded during a lavish gala. Film creators, actors, actresses and directors strive for Oscar nominations because they know perfectly well that it will bring them and their films publicity. Some films even seem to have been made for the Oscars.

The term “Oscar bait” was even coined. Such films are typically released at the end of the year to stick in viewers' minds and meet the minimum eligibility requirements to earn a nomination. “Oscar baits” are often epic dramas set in history, often based on popular novels. There are many famous names in the cast of such films, and the plot makes viewers' hearts tremble. Many people consider this to be Oscar bait “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.

The film is an adaptation of the classic novella by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a man who is born as… an eighty-year-old and gradually becomes younger – we follow his fate from the end of World War I until the 21st century. Hollywood creators have tried several times to adapt the American writer's work to the screen.

The first attempts took place in the 1990s. At some point, Steven Spielberg became interested in the project. Tom Cruise was supposed to play the main role in the ultimately unrealized film. In 1998, it was reported that the film would be directed by Ron Howard and that John Travolta would play the titular Benjamin. However, this time nothing came of these plans.

The director who finally managed to create “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was David Fincher. The now 61-year-old director is known for his distinctive storytelling style and penchant for heavier, psychological stories. His feature-length debut was the third part of “Alien”. In 1995, the cult film “Siedem” had its premiere, and a few years later “The Game” and “Fight Club”. These films secured director Fincher's place in cinematic history. In 2002, “Asylum” hit cinemas, and five years later, “Zodiac”.

With this ambitious project, Fincher wanted to pave a new path for crime films. Today, “Zodiac” is a classic of the genre, but at the time of its premiere, the film did not attract much attention. At least among the mass audience, which, despite Fincher's involvement of stars (including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr.), did not flock to cinemas. Thus, “Zodiac” became the only film in the director's output whose budget did not exceed returned.

After this financial failure, David Fincher presented the world with something completely different from his previous films. Filled with famous names, this melodrama with fantasy elements definitely stood out from the director's previous works. They played the main roles Cate Blanchet and Brad Pitt, who were at the peak of popularity at that time. In addition, thanks to Pitt's affair with Angelina Jolie, the actor was very famous and his face almost never left the covers. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” had everything to become a cinema hit.

Interestingly, this time the path to the screen was not easy. The film's production from idea to premiere took almost a decade. Fincher admitted that he was thinking about adapting Fitzgerald's work long before making the film “Zodiac”. However, he knew that he needed the support of a large studio and a lot of money. Brad Pitt helped him convince film producers. It received the green light from Paramount in 2003. In the same year, the director's father died, which influenced his approach to the story.

The film was to be shot in New Orleans. Unfortunately, in 2005 the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Fincher began to lose hope that this story would ever be adapted to the screen. “We sent the location manager to New Orleans about six weeks after Katrina, and he called and said, 'It's all still here, everything we want to see. There's no public works system and we'll have to fake all the dolly shots, but basically it's still it's here and if you want to take a risk, come. I don't know if I can get the plywood to build the set, but there are hotels that are dying to accommodate people,'” Fincher recalled in one of the interviews.

He decided to take a risk. The studio agreed to put up $150 million and “not a penny more.” The risk paid off. Unlike Fincher's previous film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” enjoyed great popularity among viewers moved by the tragic love story of Benjamin and Daisy. During awards season, he won nomination after nomination. In total, he won over 80 of them, which (according to information from the Filmweb portal) translated into 14 actual statuettes. “The Curious Case of…” earned Fincher his first Oscar nomination. The film competed for the golden knight in 13 categories. Ultimately, he received three in less prestigious technical categories. It was similar in the case of other nominations.

Despite its commercial success, the production aroused extreme emotions. Some viewers and critics considered the film almost a masterpiece, others accused it of playing on the lowest emotions, and the director himself of creating a film “for the Oscar audience”. “Given the resources and talent, it could have been a pretty good movie. But it's so hard to care about the story. There's no lesson to be learned. No catharsis is possible,” wrote legendary critic Roger Ebert about it. “It's an extraordinary idea that was brilliantly realized. A moving work of golden fantasy suspended just above the dark waters of our own mortality,” said Matthew De Abaitua.

Also check:

David Fincher: Cult films, unique style

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton: Together for 25 years. The extraordinary story of a couple