The nature of time is infinite, it is ever-present and forever moving in its perpetual course. It is not a tangible thing, while we as humans cannot grasp time in our hands, it is something that occurs undoubtably. A constant flow of measured existence; nothing and no one, despite what we feel or wish can change the unavoidable and uncontrollable continuity of time. ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ follows the peculiar life of Benjamin Button, a boy who came into the world in the aged body of an 80 year old man. Benjamin Button ages backwards, as he grows older, his body grows younger. For him, time runs backwards and yet it still maintains its nature of constant constance. Benjamin experiences life’s milestones, he learns how to walk, how to read, makes and loses friends and falls in love. Despite the fact that, physically he is old when he has these experiences, they occur in succession with time measuring them just as it does for ordinary lives. Director, David Fincher develops and communicates the idea of the inevitability of time throughout this compelling film. He employs various cinematography techniques to develop and reveal this idea in an artistic, captivating way. Montage, voice over narration, symbolism and sound are four that are used frequently throughout the movie, particularly, the final sequence of the film to conclude the theme and it’s effect on the audience.
As humans, we naturally have a tendency to distinguish and measure time, to put a name to the time we have had and will have and how we use it. We use clocks to count and keep track of time, they are a visual representation of this abstract idea. David Fincher uses the symbolism of the clock in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ to remind his audience of time’s constant presence. The sounds heard while watching a film have a profound effect on the awareness and feeling an audience has; in an instant emotions can be subconsciously changed through hearing a certain noise. The sound of ticking clocks can be heard fading in and out of the background of the film’s final sequence, illustrating the ceaseless presence of time; whether to the characters it is obvious or subtle, blearing or just barely audible. During this extract, a 5 year old Benjamin can be seen fiddling with an alarm clock as a small child typically would. The alarm clock goes off, signifying the closing chapter of his life. Here, instead of the recognizable ticking that is heard throughout the film the noise becomes a digital beeping. As time continues, so does change, and therefore through this transition from the ‘old-school’ ticking to the modern beeping, the audience becomes aware of the continuation of time. It keeps going no matter what, changing and developing as it goes. Clocks are seen several times throughout this sequence, notably as Daisy recalls the story of the clock that was made to run backwards. This seemingly strange design parallels Benjamin’s life – unusual and opposite in many ways but nevertheless continuing with time. Distinctly seeing and hearing this sequence communicates clearly the film’s theme to the audience, the idea of the inevitability of time. It communicates its unavoidable constance, whether backwards or forwards, welcome or unwelcome, it’s presence exists without end.
A montage in film is used to visually concentrate a sequence of events or things into a small space of time. In the final sequence of Fincher’s film, Daisy’s narration is weaved through a montage of the final years of Benjamin’s life and all of the changes that occur in them. From “5 years old, about the same age as I was when I met him” to a tiny infant closing his eyes for the last time, condensed into seconds. During this montage, the audience sees Benjamin walking hand in hand with Daisy, playing with blocks and other children’s toys, listening to Daisy reading him their favorite childhood book and finally wrapped up in a blanket, cradled in her arms. This montage illustrates just how quickly time can go, with these snippets and everything that changes in them flashing by like the blink of an eye. Daisy’s aged voice is heard throughout this montage, narrating the passing of time, which contrasts to the rest of the film in which Benjamin had always been the narrative voice. Because of time, Benjamin is now unable to explain these happenings for himself, so Daisy takes his place. “…I watched as he forgot how to walk – and how to talk”. The audience can sense the immense emotion she feels through hearing her voice. She and Benjamin fought against time for their love but in the end, were forced to accept its passing. Through this narration, the viewers can empathize with the longing Daisy feels with every passing second and everything they hold going with it. She watches him move through time backwards as she moves through it forwards. “The days passed” she says, commenting almost subconsciously, on the controlling yet uncontrollable nature of time, the days passed whether they wanted them to or not, whether they were ready for them or if they came with a relentless persistence; they passed. Time’s inevitability is communicated through the combination of these two techniques and the effect they have on the film’s audience. The viewers are given the opportunity to understand times power over them through Benjamin and Daisy’s love, seeing time streak past in seconds and hearing the longing that it leaves in the characters.
These uniquely manipulated techniques work together to embellish and communicate the theme of time and its inevitability. No matter our past or present, time will keep on ticking, as the curious backwards-running clock will continue infinitely and as Benjamin’s life will pursue it’s course. The combination of these techniques in this final sequence of the film leaves the audience with an awareness of time and the importance of appreciating it. Through the story and the specific cinematography techniques used, the audience is allowed to become invested in the characters and beauty of the film. The final sequence and the use of montage, voice over narration, symbols and sound wrap up the film and conclude the message that had been intertwined distinctly throughout. The idea of time and it’s inevitable occurrence, the way that without exception, time will inexplicably continue.
Humans experience time and often have no awareness of it. ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ is constructed beautifully to remind it’s viewers of time’s presence, of its power and everything it measures. Through the experiences of the characters and the manner in which they are illustrated using captivating and communicative cinematography techniques, the audience understands the inevitability of time. Fincher uses the effects of symbolism, sound, voice over narration and montage in the dilm’s final sequence to remind the audience of how to be aware of time and all it measures, to appreciate the time they have and what vibrant, unique things they do with it.