Friday, January 23, 2009
The Road and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Do you like to give recommendations to family and friends for books and movies that you have enjoyed, feeling fairly safe in your opinion that they will also enjoy them? I usually have no problem doing that, but I have been literally haunted lately by both a book and a movie that I'd like to tell you about that both come with a caveat recommendation of "read or see at your own risk."
They are not the type of feel good, happy ending stories that I think most people enjoy, yet I think they are worthwhile because they will make you think about your perceptions of life for a long time afterwards. They both contain events that shatter the concept of normalcy and introduce an element of survival under the most adverse conditions, which will have you questioning your own strengths as well as the power of hope.
The book is the novel "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where we follow a father and son as they travel toward the coast, fleeing the onset of winter. They must survive by any means possible, but they are determined not to enter into the ultimate acts of horror where starvation has led others.
McCarthy's writing skillfully compels you to keep reading, and he keeps the language simple and the chapters fast moving, but also fills them with both poignant and powerful imagery. He makes you feel compassion for the nameless father and son so much that you must know what happens to them. I could not put the book down and felt the need to finish it almost entirely in one sitting.
Can love survive in a brutal world, can we make the ultimate sacrifice for it? Are all our realities so frail and so easily destroyed?
This is an unforgettable book, and one I believe will become a classic. The Road was the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and is in production to be made into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen for release in 2009
The movie is "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a drama released in 2008, based on the 1921 short story of the same name written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The film was directed by David Fincher, written by Eric Roth, and stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.
Eric Roth almost completely rewrote Fritzgerald's short story which can be read in its entirety here. What he kept was the main premise of the story about what it would be like to age in reverse.
The movie synopsis the Paramount Pictures web site:
"We follow his story, set in New Orleans from the end of World War I in 1918, into the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man’s life can be. Benjamin Button is a grand tale of a not-so-ordinary man and the people and places he discovers along the way, the loves he finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time."
I found it to be an enthralling fantasy, well acted, beautiful in its detail, with a cinematography that had a dreamy sepia quality about it that made me feel as if I was watching an vintage film. There were many quiet little subplots within the story, little gems of wisdom which could easily be missed, but which somehow all come together in the end. I was literally in tears many times watching it, especially at the end, but I went away feeling enriched by the experience. It is a movie that requires you to pay attention, to feel, to think. It made me appreciate the normal process of aging, and the realization that although "we live our lives forward, but understand them backward," as observed by the Danish philosopher Kierkeguard, that process is a gift which would not serve us well in reverse.
However, this is not to say the movie is not without its critics. As I left the theater I heard many a grumble from the departing audience that it was "one of the worst movies they ever saw," and many complained about the length, which is close to three hours. I do repeat that you should see it at your own discretion, as it is an unusual and reflective tale, but I feel somewhat vindicated in my favorable impressions of it due to the fact that it received 13 Academy Award nominations today!
I'd love to know what your opinions are if you read the book, and or saw the movie, and I hope I piqued your interest if you haven't.