Fincher understands cinematic narrative construction and has the craft to match. I fell under his spell during “Fight Club”.
The idea there was to play a game with inner narrative. It was, I think when Pitt first found his way into full collaboration with a director’s adventure with the shifting of watcher and writer. That made Pitt a real actor in my book. Fincher has played with other devices since. “Panic Room” was architectural, at least to begin. “Zodiac” twisted the detective story in odd ways.
Here he works with one of the most basic challenges in film: how to show the internal workings of a mind in emotional seas. The conventional way in literature is easy enough for us now: we read about what we believe are the inner ruminations and remembrences of a mind. But that makes for bad films — where we have all sorts of talk, explanations in words instead of immersion in experience through the visual grammar. These are the worst.
But what if you want to tell a real love story? One of real love, deep love, impossible love? What if you want it directly from the lover’s hearts and don’t want some metaphoric overlay, some watered down convention? Well, you might try this collection of devices, these two.
First there is the inter-nested story. We have the framing narrative of the clockmaker and his love. (This, incidentally, is one way to show love, to conflate it with something visual, like clocks, stations, hurricanes, lightning.) We leave that and come to an inner framing story, a dying woman still calculating, revealing secrets to a daughter. This is actually a pretty conventional setting as well. We revisit it enough to allow for an excuse for her to “read” from a diary, the excuse for us to hear the inner thoughts and emotions of Benjamin. This one device gives blanket allowance, and the casual viewer will scarcely notice that we get the inner beats of the woman’s heart as well, in her own “words”.
This is combined with the more visible device of two lover’s lives running in opposite directions. We go forward while the story is recalled as double memory, triple if we credit Ormand’s character (the daughter) as the one going in reverse. And this is conveyed cinematically by the somewhat hypnotic device of seeing the familar face of Brad Pitt reverse age. It sounds simple, this concoction, but I imagine it to take the focused efforts of all involved, including the two women: our most talented folding actors (both redheads here) Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton.
Along the way, Fincher almost teases us with what he does not do. There is the “Doctor Zhivago” route not taken, the war movie route, the dancer (performance as love), the Ron Howard play (“Cocoon”), the Speilberg play, in fact all the possible ratholes that all the possible directors who were once attached would have gone down.
Yes, it is slow. Love is. Yes, it is difficult, but this love is — all deep love is. All lasting love is a passing moment, captured and nurtured internally while it tries its best to vanish.
Is this the best, truest love story in ages? Yes, probably. Will it change you? Possibly, depending on where your heart passes.
Posted in 2008
Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.