The plot comes from a 1921 comic short story by Scott Fitzgerald in which a man is born old and goes through life, physically at least, backwards.
I found myself zoning in and out of wonderment here — more out of it than in during the last hour. Compared to say Brokeback Mountain, this probably wasn't the sort of short story with narrative potential that naturally expands to 159 minutes of feature length entertainment.
Director David Finch (Fight Club, Zodiac) appears not to have been entirely sure whether to pursue a fantasy or a realist aesthetic, and so we get a bit of each...both done beautifully for sure. But V and I both ended up feeling that this is one of those movies where the lights are on but nobody's home.
What's the message here exactly? We see Benjamin as an old-young man discovering himself in India and hear him pontificating in his diary about how it's never too late or too early to do something with your life. But does going round the life-cycle counter-clockwise really alter the way possibility presents itself to us?
There simply weren't enough moments where the conceit was put to effective use to make us think about the existential issues it might be packing as a payload. The only one that has stuck in my mind is the scene where the wrinkly adolescent surprises a hooker with his enthusiasm in the sack. Is a man's vitality at base physical or mental seemed to be the question being asked there.
The romantic component to this tale didn't really work for us either, in part because Blanchett's mumbling old lady was such a tiresome presence. The script also seemed less awkward about an old man hitting it off with a young girl than vice versa, which helped to dull our interest in the origin of these love-lines fated to converge somewhere in the middle.
As Hurricane Katrina drew ever closer I was convinced it was going to have some relevance to both plot and meaning...but then it didn't. By then I was seriously disinclined to think deeply about the significance of that ruddy hummingbird.