Consider that our curious Mr. Button goes through his whole life surrounded by people who speak in nothing but greeting-card platitudes. Wait, I wrote a bunch of them down.
*"You never know what's coming for ya." That's Button's adoptive mom, a very kind African-American woman played by Taraji P. Henson. The sentiment is a less ominous variant of No Country For Old Men's "You can't stop what's coming." Sometimes being ominous really helps.
*"It's not about how well you play, it's about how you feel about what you play." That's the nice woman who teaches Button piano. (Sorry, Miss Actor, I forgot to write your name down.) And of course she's absolutely right.
*"We're meant to lose the people we love; how else are we to know how important they are to us?" I don't even know who says this.
*"Savor it. And don't eat it all at once, because that way there's nothing left to enjoy." That's Benjamin's older/younger lover Elizabeth Abbot (Tilda Swinton, maintaining an admirably straight face) teaching Benjamin—who, given his condition, is of course a Gump-esque naif, only he doesn't talk as funny—how to eat caviar. METAPHOR!!!!
*"You realize what's changed is you." That's Benjamin himself, in voiceover, reflecting on how you can go home again, but why it doesn't feel the same sometimes when you do. Awww.
*"I was thinking about how nothing lasts. And what a shame that is." "Some things last." That's Benjamin, and the love of his life, Daisy. Daisy is played by Cate Blanchett, and late in the film, she gets to revisit her role as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, sort of,which is nice. The framing device of the film is based around Blanchett's character, who's dying in a New Orleans hospital, now so old she looks and sounds like one of those really scary screaming eyeless things from Pan's Labyrinth. Daisy's daughter—a very drawn-looking Julia Ormond—is reading her Benjamin's diary. And, oh yeah, Hurricane Katrina's starting to pound the hospital windows. You really never DO know what's coming for you! And if it's a freakin' hurricane, you sure as hell can't stop it! Get it?
*"Sometimes we're on a collision course and we just don't know it." Benjamin again. Like our friend Forrest, a regular fount of homespun wisdom.
*"You can swear and curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go." I don't know who says that either, but it's in there.
*"Fuck me gently with a chainsaw." Oh, wait, that's from Heathers.
And there's like almost three hours of this. And a hummingbird. And a lot of great visuals that bring to mind, more than Kubrick or Zemeckis or anyone else, but Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Specifically the Jeunet of Un Long Dimanche des Fiancelles, with its love for panoramas and the golden glow that makes you think everything's shot through a filter of wheat—Fincher throws in fog and snow too, to keep stuff interesting. And interesting is all it is. One really weird thing about this movie that I didn't glom onto before I started thinking about it—it's just so goddamn polite. I mean, I'm really glad they toned down the world-historical-through-the-eyes-of-a-very-common-man devices of Gump here, but watching Button, you'd get the impression that New Orleans from 1918 to 1962 was a paradise of racial harmony. Nary a character raises his/her voice in the whole picture; even Jared Harris' putatively boisterous tugboat captain is relatively genteel.
Oh well. I can only explain the hosannas starting to come this picture's way as evidence of a sort of mass delusion—they know that Button expects to move them, and they want to be moved by it, so they roll over for this soft-headed nonsense in a bright shiny digital package. Such is the power of the Button juggernaut that it put at least one naysayer on the defensive. "I'm going to try very hard not to waste my energy trashing the inevitable prom king," Spout's Karina Longworth sighed, before moaning, "frankly, I'm tired of fighting for my right to disagree."
Well, Karina, I'm here to tell you something: Get over it, and get over yourself, moja sestra. Let your freak flag fly! There's two of us now; tomorrow there will be more. Welcome to the fight; this time I know our side will win.
Okay, not really, but, you know.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that many might think I'm just pummeling Button's treacly dialogue, and that after all, many of Sirk's masterpieces, for example, are packed with treacly dialogue. Except that in Sirk's films the mise-en-scene often challenge or contradict the sap. And, in any case, it isn't all sap—c.f. the devastating "Why Annie, I didn't know you had any friends," in Imitation of Life. In Button, Fincher's mise-en-scene is entirely in the service of the treacle. In other words, Fincher buys it. Which I suppose was his job...