A lot of things ran through my mind watching this film, all the result of several months’ worth of blogging and pondering scripts.
First, I think about theme. The film starts in modern day New Orleans, as Hurricane Katrina builds strength in the Gulf. An old woman in a hospital prepares for death, and tells the story of a clockmaker who lost his son in World War I, and the clock he builds in response runs backward. He hopes, he says, that maybe we can get back some of our sons we lost in the war.
Immediately we establish themes of the reversal of time and the value of life – one, approaching the end, at the beginning of the film, the other reaching a premature end at the hands of war.
Then we begin reading the memoirs of this man. The baby is born. It is an ugly baby, and rejected by its father and taken in by a young black couple who run a nurshing home. Themes of rejection vs acceptance. I can’t help but marvel at the genius choice to make it a black couple, in nineteen-teens deep South, driving in this theme. Rejection vs acceptance.
His biological father comes to show remorse for his decision, and comes back to make amends. Remorse for decisions made in the past. But it’s not too late to change your future. The inevitably immature mistakes of our past, but the ability to forgive, and love, and grow, and sieze opportunities in our future. Another huge theme that permeates this movie.
And of course, there is birth and there is death. The cycle of life. The beginning and the end.
I think about adaptations. The original story was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921. Benjamin’s birthdate was 1860, just before the outbreak of the Civil War; in the movie, it’s 1918, on the day World War I ends. It seems, as I’m watching it, that so much has been skipped to trim eighty years of a man’s life into three hours, I was surprised to find out the original was a short story, 9,000 words, and not a full-length novel. I think again to the fact that this was a work in public domain, for which a beautiful adaptation has been made, and I consider again the adaptations I want to make: Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Milton, Chaucer, the list goes on. There are so many ways to adapt a work, only your imagination can hold you back.
I think about the formula, and how great it is to have a character who’s so passive in his protagonism. He makes choices, but never makes a wrong one. He never does something that makes us say, “Oh, no, not that!” because from birth to death he has this patience, this calmness, this understanding. He’s a man of few words, and he somehow seems inactive in the way he drives the action.
And he’s so damn beautiful.
I’m not one for period pieces. And I’m not one for epic dramas. But this was an outstanding, beautiful piece of fiction that absorbed me at every moment, beautiful and ugly.