The Curious Case of Balanchine Button…and Hurricane Katrina. WTF?


Umm…so…did anybody know that Cate Blanchette’s character, Daisy, in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a fucking ballet dancer? And her career arc, from entering the School of American Ballet to dancing with Balanchine to getting caught up in the new modern dance bohemia to soured old ballet teacher–is like a major plot element of the movie?

So weird that the Oscar-fishing behemoth hasn’t seemed to get any dance press.

If you’re on the edgier side of dance politics, you will want to kill this movie. Along with reinforcing the notion that a successful career in dance is inextricably tied to youth, the film also spins Daisy’s passion for dance into a mysterious power by which Bradd Pitt’s Benjamin is both seduced and bored.

However, some may find delight in the pathos David Fincher and Eric Roth wring from Daisy’s inspiring, if predictably tragic career.

But the conscription of dance into the service of the plot pales in comparison to the film’s greatest ethical breach: using Hurricane Katrina as a metaphor for life’s impermanence. It is a flawed, unnecessary and, frankly, unforgivable gimmick; one that trivializes the real issues at the heart of the Katrina tragedy (the disproportionate way natural disasters can affect people of low income, the inability of the local government to adequately protect its citizens from a widely known infrastructural problem, the federal government’s embarrassing response to the disaster) while glorifying the importance of the fictional story which, on its own, is often a compelling rumination on the passage of time and human possession.

Likewise, screenwriter Roth’s inability to prevent himself from writing “Forest Gump Part II” –Gump’s box of chocolates antecedent “…you never know what you’re gonna get” is morphed into Button’s “You never know what’s coming for you…”–becomes a minor and even charming flaw compared to “Button’s” last-ditch attempt to make itself relevant by conjuring the specter of the not-so-distant and all-too-real disaster of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s as if Roth has come along and shone us exactly how not to treat massive human catastrophe when constructing narrative: It is not a device; it is a subject.

Please, Mr. Roth, before sitting down to pen “Forest Gump III: Operation Iraqi Freedom,” try reading some Susan Sontag.

And also try trusting in your gifts as a writer to create meaning out of compelling fiction without needlessly trying to drag in non-fictional references to support the world you’re creating. Good fiction doesn’t need to have any lines drawn to topical realities. In fact, the best and most enduring fiction tends not to.


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