Anatomy of a Scene - The Letter
A memorable scene from the great 2008 film: 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
"For what it's worth, it's never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or worst of it, and I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Sometimes, you can watch an entire movie and not feel moved by it. Whether it’s a stirring of your emotions or being introspective about your feelings, few movies will touch the viewer personally. Luckily, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an exception to the rule, especially when it comes to the scene where the main character, Benjamin Button, writes a letter to his daughter, whom he barely knew in life.
With her mother on her deathbed, the daughter finally opens and retrieves many letters from a father whom she barely knew and is startled to have a keepsake from someone who was rarely in her life. Benjamin Button has a unique condition where instead of getting older like the rest of us as he goes through life, the opposite happens to him and he gets younger and younger, allowing him to experience life backwards. Still, despite this inconvenience, he can live a full life, and that is what makes this movie scene so special because he encourages his daughter to do the same. While he is not around to see her have her own adventures, he wants the best for her and wants to her to “live a life that she’s proud of.”
When we first are introduced to this scene, we see that Benjamin’s daughter realizes that he went to India and many other places years ago based on the kind of parchment that his letters are written on. There are many letters addressed to her from the time she was two years old and onward when he was not around to be with her. Despite the sadness and disappointment associated with that, she is relieved that he was writing to her and thought of her even when he was far away. For him to think of her while writing "the letter" in such faraway places shows that despite his curious condition, he loved her dearly and wanted to express that even after he passed away.
This movie scene is brilliant because it shows Benjamin travelling around India while narrating to his daughter that he wants her to "be whoever you want to be," whether that’s a traveler or a janitor or a toll booth manager. You can make the "best or the worst of it" as he states to her, depending on your perspective on life, but he wants her to make the "best of it" as he did. A father imparting this important message on to his daughter that it’s okay to "start over" again in life is important for her to hear but also for the audience to understand.
If you find that you are not "living a life that you’re proud of," then there is nothing wrong with changing it in order to finally be proud of. While he did a lot of travelling, there is still the humdrum of daily life involved such as cleaning your clothes, talking with the locals, and even drinking from a water hose. “There are no rules to this thing.” Sometimes, we tend to think of life as a narrow path when really there are going to be numerous zigs or zags, and when you become an adult, you have to make the rules for how you want to live, what is important to you, and what to care about.
“I hope you see things that startle you, I hope you feel things that you’ve never felt before…” This part of the scene is brilliant in showing the beauty of Benjamin’s travels and how he would sleep, brush his teeth, and move around by motorbike through beautiful mountain passes and rivers. Benjamin wanted his daughter to experience the world and for her to enjoy what it had to offer in her own life. Part of doing just that is adapting to the places you visit and to seek out the adventures yourself in order to make the most of it.
“I hope you meet people with a different point of view…” Benjamin encourages his daughter also to get to know other people, whether from another city or another country, and how it’s necessary to be open to them and to be kind. The locals help Benjamin fix his motorbike as he drives through their village on one of his journeys.
“I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” Benjamin’s last words to his daughter ask of her to be strong in not being afraid to change your life or decide that you want to live it a different way than before. The mother imparts at the end of the scene that “he had been gone a long time…”
Unfortunately, this scene shows both the beauty and tragedy of life in that sometimes, we can’t be there for the people we love but are with them in spirit. Benjamin could not be with his daughter in life, but he wished that he had been there to wish her a happy birthday, to kiss her goodnight, to take her to her first day of school, to teach her to play piano, to chase away boys, and to be her Father. “Nothing he ever did would replace that.” Even after all the adventures that Benjamin had, the most important role he ever had was being her father and he wanted to make sure she knew that by leaving her with his diary.
Even in his absence, this scene shows us the power of a father’s love for his daughter and how he wanted the best for her and to live a life that would yield happiness and fulfillment for her. In one minute, this scene in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has more of an emotional impact than many movies do in more than two hours.
Breaking down this narrative and the beautiful cinematography and filmmaking of travelling at its most challenging yet most rewarding was quite an achievement by the film’s director and crew. Not only would this movie scene have an impact on Benjamin’s daughter by also on the rest of us watching in the movie theater or at home. If you have a chance, watch this scene to appreciate the scenery, the message, and the power of love between a father and a daughter. A powerful movie scene worth a watch and a couple of re-watches as well.