I enjoyed The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as an experience, but I don’t think it’s will end up as much of a classic. Devin’s excellent review covers many of the reasons that the film is a bit passionless, and many more are covered in the Sewer Post-Release Thread. One sticking point that I’ve heard mentioned by nearly everyone though, is the similarity of the film to Forrest Gump, which bugged me particularly as the film progressed. Since the two share a screenwriter, it’s quite natural that they would have moments of familiarity, but there were simply so many that it was difficult to not be bothered by them. There is a dangerous line to tread between style and masturbation (Case-in-point: The Spirit).
I don’t want the following list to imply that I think Benjamin Button is a retread of Gump… it’s not. Most of these similarities are hidden or repurposed well enough to not be glaring obvious (save for one). The considerable difference between Zemeckis’ schmaltz and Fincher’s austerity also masks many of the overlapping elements. At the end of the day this is simply a catalog of observations rather than an indictment.
If you have any thoughts on the comparisons, or think I missed any, let me know on the boards or in the comments!
The Feather Vs. The (fucking goddamn) Hummingbird
I’m going to get the one terrible repeating motif out of the way first. ILM’s digital feather floating through the squares of Savannah, GA was less than subtle, but at least it matched the tone of Gump. The Hummingbird that makes a similarly floaty appearance in Button has no place in a Fincher film, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. As a motif it is weak; it only repeats once and has meaning for only one character.
A minor gripe: unlike most of the special FX in Ben Button, the hummingbird CGI is going to age quickly and poorly.
Being a Moron Vs. Aging Backwards
Both provide the high-concept backbone of their respective films, and both lead to often maddeningly passive protagonists. Gump had the advantage of shameless nuggets of wisdom to help endear him to his audience. Button has the difficulty of a more austere sort of wisdom that is implied more than demonstrated. While Forrest’s slowness “blessed” him with a quaint, simplified, and very digestible view of life, Button borders on cold. Pitt’s narration offers little insight and his performance is often hamstrung by it’s (admittedly well-done) stoicism.
Mama Gump’s House Vs. Mama Queenie’s House
This might be the strongest thematic link between Gump and Button: the large, airy, and comforting Southern home. Both are home to transients, whether they be Gump’s travelers or Button’s constant cycle of the elderly. Both environments are presided over by the strong matriarchal mothers, which gives the title characters unique positions in the home. The house in both films provide a dramatic and geographic ground for the characters, and is returned to at important points. The passing of time is always reflected in the changes in the homes.
Jenny Vs. Daisy
These two characters fulfill very different roles in their respective films, but the scripts often approach them in similar ways. Jenny and Daisy represent the quests of both Forrest and Benjamin. Jenny is given a great many cute moments with Forrest, so their connection feels established and inevitable even as Jenny goes off to serve as a condescending and vaguely misogynistic counter-culture stand in. Daisy’s relationship with Benjamin feels looser, but it is patterned much the same way. Like Jenny, she leaves the narrative for long stretches, becomes a worldly, sexualized woman that can’t relate well to our hero, and eventually rejects him outright. Naturally though, they both come to see the inevitability of the relationship and make prodigal returns to the big southern houses. Here the comparison ceases as Daisy continues on in the narrative, rather than dying in a suspiciously judgmental case of AIDS.
Shrimpin’ Boat Vs. Tug-Boat
Roth’s (assumed) personal love for the sea emerges very strongly in both scripts. That Benjamin joins a ship’s crew for the hell of it, and Forrest sails out because of a promise creates a strange sort of disconnect from any naval passion though.
Hurricane Carmen Vs. Hurricane Katrina
Roth also likes his cataclysmic storms. Lt. Dan and Daisy both get a spiritual cleansing via a Category 5.
Some other interesting ties:
Sudden wealth: Apple Stock Vs. The Button Fortune
Weathered, broken men: Lt. Dan Vs. Capt. Mike
First worldly influence : Elvis Vs. Ngunda Oti (Both stylish and brief visitors to the home)
Abrupt Post-Sex Female Disappearances: Jenny Vs. Eilzabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton)
Tragedy that shows those crazy womens the light: Hippie AIDS Vs. Car to the Dancin’ legs
Think I’m full of bullshit? Got one of your own? Throw it on the boards or in the comments. Any good ones and I’ll add it to the blog with a credit to ya.
Thanks for reading!
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BONUS: Renn’s One-Word Movie Review
Good / Bad / Neutral
December 31st, 2008 : : The Punisher: War Zone – Unpretentious
Past One-Word Movie Reviews
October 13th, 2008 : : Grand Illusion - (the) Former
September 30th, 2008 : : The Man With A Movie Camera – Hyper-Lumiere
September 17th, 2008 : : Happiness – Squalid
August 25th, 2008 : : Starship Troopers – Grandiloquent!
August 18th, 2008 : : Inglorious Bastards – Carpenter-esque
August 10th, 2008 : : Mondo Cane – Condescending
August 8th, 2008 : : Naked Lunch - Neither
July 29th, 2008 : : The Hitcher  – Rutger!
July 8th, 2008 : : Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules – Spacey
July 1st, 2008 : : WALL-E – Tender
June 27th, 2008 : : Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) - Evil
June 22nd, 2008 : : You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – Jocular
June 17th, 2008 : : The Happening – Embarrassing
June 14th, 2008 : : Kung-Fu Panda – Thin
June 12th, 2008 : : Run Lola Run – Reckless
June 9th, 2008 : : Day Watch – Upgrade
June 8th, 2008 : : The Amateurs – Endearing