American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a splendidly made film based on a profoundly mistaken premise. It tells the story of a man who is old when he is born and an infant when he dies. All those around him, everyone he knows and loves, grow older in the usual way, and he passes them on the way down. As I watched the film, I became consumed by a conviction that this was simply wrong.
Let me paraphrase the oldest story I know: In the beginning, there was nothing, and then God said, "Let there be light." Everything comes after the beginning, and we all seem to share this awareness of the direction of time's arrow. There is a famous line by e.e. cummings that might seem to apply to Benjamin Button: and down he forgot as up he grew. But no, it involves the process of forgetting our youth as we grow older.
We begin a movie or novel and assume it will tell a story in chronological time. Flashbacks and flash-forwards, we understand. If it moves backward through a story (Harold Pinter's "Betrayal"), its scenes reflect a chronology seen out of order. If a day repeats itself (Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day"), each new day begins with the hero awakening and moving forward. If time is fractured into branching paths ("Synecdoche, New York"), it is about how we attempt to control our lives. Even time-travel stories always depend on the inexorable direction of time.
Yes, you say, but Benjamin Button's story is a fantasy. I realize that. It can invent as much as it pleases. But the film's admirers speak of how deeply they were touched, what meditations it invoked. I felt instead: Life doesn't work this way. We are an observer of our passage, and so are others. It has been proposed that one reason people marry is because they desire a witness to their lives. How could we perform that act of love if we were aging in opposite directions?