A Curious Case (Name That Film Pt 2)

Name that film:

A white man is born fatherless in the south with birth defects that lead many to think he may never walk nor live a normal life.  His saintly mother believes in his potential anyway.  At a young age, the man learns to walk and sheds his exoskeleton of locomotive aids.  Around this time, he also meets the love of his life, a vivacious girl who grows into a bold woman who parts ways with the man to have her own wild adventures.  Meanwhile, the man reaches adulthood, and puts in a wartime stint in the U.S. military.  During this stint, the man proves at first an indifferent asset, but during his one firefight, he turns out to be very valuable, saving the day singlehandedly, while also witnessing the death of one of his best friends.  The man also spends much time on a small ocean vessel, serving alongside a rowdy, grizzled, hard-drinking man of the sea.   This salty sailor serves as one of our man’s two best male friends; the other is a black man who first teaches our man the lessons of friendship before departing forever.

Our man wanders all around the world, his life brushing up against key historical moments of the 20th century.  At some point he returns to his childhood home, and his mother dies.  The man comes into considerable wealth through blind luck. Around this time, his lifelong love returns from her adventures, ready to commit to him.  During their brief time together, they conceive a child.  The couple part ways, due to the woman’s perceived inability to take care of the man.  He does not raise the child through its early years but later makes an appearance in its life.  The woman eventually dies in bed from illness.  The man’s later years are hardly touched on, even though the movie has lavished much attention on his early and middle years.

The entire story dwells repeatedly on the theme of life’s uncertainty and, in contrast, on the notion of fate or coincidence.  The film’s symbol for these themes is a small object seen hovering improbably in the air.  A narrative frame scene punctuates the story, as does the main character’s drawling voice-over.

Acceptable Answers:

Forrest Gump; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.*

* Both movies were written by Eric Roth, a man who now owes me seventeen dollars, because I was dumb enough to take my wife, who was smart enough to help me ferret out Roth’s crimes against screenwriting.  If you liked this round of Name That Film, be sure to check out the original at:  http://madeinhead.org/anism/?p=114.



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30 Responses to “A Curious Case (Name That Film Pt 2)”

  1. Katharine Says:

    Okay, that was hilarious.

  2. MBG Says:

    YES! YES! THANK YOU! I watched this somnolent piece of garbage on Friday and had the same thoughts (though not nearly as well-thought-out or -articulated.)

  3. Y. Siv Says:

    What with his being one of the defraudees in Bernard Madoff’s ponzi scheme, I’m not sure you’ll be seeing that seventeen bucks anytime soon.

  4. Daniel Lee Says:

    Excellent! You hit the nail on the head! Thank you! I have myself composed a rather lengthier vivisection of the film on my own blog. It can be found here: http://dglee.blogspot.com/2008/12/movie-review-curious-case-of-benjamin.html

    I suspect you’ll appreciate it.

  5. GK Says:

    Good analysis. You forgot to add that both stories are told in flashback.

    I some things to add/vent, though: Beyond the films’ blatant similarities, the two films do have starkly different tones. Gump goes about its business in a tone of sweet saccharine whimsy, Button goes about that same business entirely detached and hollow. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this formula ‘worked’ the first time around but not this time, I’d just say that it did work better in Gump. And the character was human. A cartoon of a human, but a human nonetheless. and that’s one of my problems with Button: Gump is slow. And people can indeed be born slow. So Roth didn’t need to focus on it so much. It happens in reality every day.

    Button’s ‘Curious Case’ itself is hardly talked about at all in Fincher’s film. It’s a fantasy, yes, but should that give a writer carte blanche to be lazy? It doesn’t take place on Alpha Centauri. It’s Earth. Button never wants to discover why he is the way he is. He wasn’t born slow, he can’t pick up a medical journal and go “Oh, that sucks but alright, I understand.” He was born with a condition exclusive to him. Does he not care? Does it not interest him at all? It doesn’t interest Queenie? Or Daisy? I mean, Benjamin is so passive to everything else in the movie, so alright, fine, but what about EVERYONE else? It just lacked that. The doctor at the beginning of the film should have been a character.

    He should have checked up on Benjamin, and when he started aging backwards, try to discover why. And the ‘why’ should never really be discovered of course, but the character’s attempt would have meant something. And I was totally taken aback when Button grew up.. and then started to shrink again. Why does this happen? In the short story, Button is born 5 feet whatever and deages down to a baby, which wouldn’t really work in a whimsy movie, so I understand that reversal in the film. But I was totally expecting the character to grow up while getting young, and then, just get younger and younger, his skin thinner and thinner, like some kind of giant fetus or something smiliar, just a pale, fragile, young adult and then simply fade away.

    That would have been the perfect visual, like Sellers walking on water in Being There. Button sits on a beach somewhere, Daisy with him, he is so young he is fragile as all hell, and Daisy leaves him, camera on him, Daisy begins to walk away, camera followes her, but risks one look back, and he’s gone. That’s how I would have ended it. Bad movies that had real potential get me going more than a straight bad film because of what could have been. I frown on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button more than _____ Movie because wasted potential is the worst thing there is. I wouldn’t have changed anything else, Fincher, Pitt, Blanchett, Desplat, anyone. Just Roth. He ruined what could have been a masterpiece. That really bugs me.

    On to the next story, I guess.

    I disagree with Ebert that the premise is inherently offputting. With the right hands, it could have had true magic. With Roth’s hands, it was a turd of a movie. A crisp, shiny apple with a worm in it.

  6. Max Eggers Says:

    PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT! That is all i need and I would also like my $10.50 back. I don’t get why every one is claiming david fincher to be a GENIUS! it was pretentious (the last shot of the CLOCK), boring, horribly acted (*cough* Brad Pitt *cough*), the special effects were terrible (the scene in the street car where brad pitts head was bobbling around), shot badly, why was everything CGI? (they couldn’t GO to Russia?), and all the dialogue was rehashed from every single movie I’ve ever seen (forrest gump especially). STUPID MOVIE

  7. Snerro Says:

    And, of course, both mamas always said “you never know what you’re gonna get.”

  8. Michael Says:

    Perfect! Found this after Ebert published your letter. Liked Gump, but was astounded at just how pointless Benjamin Button was — nearly three hours is watchable and often entertaining but amounts to…nothing. I think you’ve just proven it as the most derivative movie of the year.

  9. Evan Says:

    He also inserts arbitrary flashbacks in grainy black and white footage for comic effect, when Gump talks about his namesake Nathan Bedford Forrest and when old man talks about getting struck by lightning repeatedly. I’ve seen Forrest Gump at least 80 times and wish to see Benjamin Button again.

  10. Evan Says:

    “when an old man.

  11. Trevor Says:

    This was really cool. Very well done.

    Also both characters have a symbol that follows them.

    Forrest Gump = a feather
    Benjamin Button = a hummingbird

  12. Which of These Things? - Carpetbagger Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    […] the evidence and suggests that the “Forrest Gump” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” are actually the same movie, just separated by a few years. Call it “The Curious Case of Forrest […]

  13. Nathan Says:

    Dead on. My wife and I had this same conversation after watching this yesterday. I noticed that the movie even uses television reports and events to show the progression of time , but relegates them to background pieces. Even Fincher in his direction choices was stealing from Forrest Gump. That shot at the end where he recaps the lives that touched him reminded me of the scene in Gump where he does the same thing at the end of that film as he goes over the progression of his life and how he always was thinking of Jenny recapping important scenes. We could not stop laughing as we realized how duped we felt.

  14. Benjamin Button = Forrest Gump? » Scene-Stealers Says:

    […] Television” David Kronke has posted his comparison of the two movies here, but this post from Maidenhead is the most in-depth and funny comparison I’ve […]

  15. lambman Says:

    I don’t really see the Forest Gump parallel thematically or emotionally between the two stories, sure a few plot points like he braces match up but other than that you’re really reaching on some of it, especially the ” During this [wartime, military] stint, the man proves at first an indifferent asset, but during his one firefight, he turns out to be very valuable, saving the day singlehandedly,” Unless I watched a different movie I don’t remember Benjamin single handedly doing anything other than ducking for cover and talking to the captain who was bleeding to death.

    Mostly the parallels exist because they are both stories that are spanning several decades in a persons life. You can’t really tell a story about a man of a certain age set in the decades of WWII or Vietnam without those wars playing into the plot in some way or another.

    And there was so much in Benjamin Button that simply doesn’t have any parallel with Gump at all, what about the sequences of Tilda Swinton’s characters for instance?

  16. Stephen Says:

    When you think about it, Button and Gump are both unflattering and somewhat comical surnames for a hero. Both names feature the soft U sound, as do the following words: dump, frump, butt, mutt, bum, dumb, schlub, and duh.

  17. Michael Says:

    Your obsession with narrative disqualifies you from saying anything meaningful about film. You clearly do not appreciate the medium, nor do you appreciate the ocean of difference between Forrest Gump and an exceptionally well-made film like Benjamin Button. Your overly simplistic, dismissive tone reveals your inability to think seriously about films, and leaves this piece as nothing more than a shallow conceit, born out of idle musings you probably had while eating breakfast or driving your car.

  18. Bobby Palestini Says:

    I give you a tentative “A-Men”, sir.

    You are doing God’s work on Earth by pointing out what an embarrassing rip-off The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is.

    My TENTATIVE “A-Men”, however, is because of your final “a man who now owes me seventeen dollars”.

    Is this because you took someone to see Benjamin Button with you, or because you are denouncing Forrest Gump, which is a film treasure?

    Inquiring Bobbys want to know.

  19. News Re: Getting Old | The Talent Show Says:

    […] completely unrelated news, I’m glad I’m not the only person who noticed this : Name that […]

  20. Madeinhead Says:

    Nathan, I too saw it with my wife. Bobby, the seventeen dollars is owed because my wife and I watched it together, and together we picked up the scent of self-plagiarism.

    I do think the Button premise had tremendous promise, and that a movie like Gump but with a different tone could be a masterpiece. Just not a Button-premised movie with Gump’s plot-Roth’s script ignored a lot of the most interesting possibilities by assuming it needed to Gump up the plot.

    However, the parallels are not limited to the plot, as lambman and the 2nd Michael seem to think. I tried to formulate the similarities between Gump’s character and Benjamin Button, but it’s hard to do so without doing a disservice to the slow and aged everywhere. I did also try to point out that the movies share the same vague, offensively inoffensive themes.

    For more fine-grained analysis of the parallels, see Daniel Lee’s post, which he links to in his comment above.

    I think the lesson to be learned here is, the problem with drawing too many times from the same well is, the water at the bottom is stagnant.

  21. Al Fredo Says:

    Excellent summary; I too saw this referenced from Ebert’s site, and had the exact same reaction after watching B.B. I read Daniel’s summary (noted above) as well. You both have hit on the major plot similarities, but there are even more smaller details that completely match.

    Both characters attend predominantly black churches (FG to pray for rain; BB for Queenie’s funeral)
    Both characters watch iconic musical acts on TV (FG - Elvis; BB and Daisy - Beatles; not sure if both were Ed Sullivan)
    Both characters witness sunrises over bodies of water (FG - Gulf of Mexico; BB - Lake Pontch)
    Both characters wonder if their offspring will have the same affliction as they do
    Both movies discuss characters and what their destinies are/were (FG -with his mother, and BB -at end of movie)

    I am reminded of the annoying Coke commercials (where the mgmt of the Coke brand is looking to sue one of the other Coke brands); I am expecting Eric Roth to announce that he is suing himself for copyright infringement.

  22. Rhys Southan Says:

    You and the commenters caught all the parallels I noticed and more, except I would add that the love of the main character’s life becomes a big city girl who initially dismisses the hero’s pleas that she return to her smaller Southern home town.

  23. Michael Says:

    While there are similarities in the narratives (many screenwriters could be condemned in a similar fashion), much like the original “name that movie” post, this type of comparison serves more as an amusing aside than any means for serious analysis of the film. As I stated before, the entire entry comes off as innocuous, annoying, and, most importantly, irrelevant commentary on artists’ work.

    As for the similarities in the narrative, they are skin-deep. But in the other qualities of the composition of the film (cinematography, editing, sound design and score, acting, set design, etc), Fincher’s work in Benjamin Button is a far cry from the stiff, formulaic stylings of Zemeckis. As I said before, your failure to appreciate the medium beyond the basics of characterizations and narrative (ie. “I tried to formulate the similarities between Gump’s character and Benjamin Button, but it’s hard to do so without doing a disservice to the slow and aged everywhere.”) severely limit your ability to effectively critique the film.

    On that note, you have completely failed to actually articulate your problems with the film; I am left to infer your distaste for the film from your somewhat angry-sounding prose and your final assertion that you’d like your money back, which you could have easily obtained from the manager of the theater, who almost always will happily refund a dissatisfied customer his ticket. If that strikes you as dishonorable, then perhaps you should consider that you got your money’s worth of entertainment, because your viewing of the film has clearly inspired you to write this entry.

    If you had simply been pointing the similarities out in an amusing fashion, I might have laughed a bit and moved on. As it stands, your self-righteous indignation compelled me to spell out just why it is that I think your post is ill-conceived, poorly considered, and illustrative of your inability to properly appreciate the art of cinema.

    Obviously the popular reception of these irrelevancies bolster your idea that these considerations are somehow valid or interesting. To that I must point out that “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” has grossed over $100 million dollars, clearly illustrating that the world is filled with idiots, any number of which would happily come to your blog and validate this silliness with posts such as “You are doing God’s work on Earth by pointing out what an embarrassing rip-off The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is.” Normally that kind of hyperbole is saved for Mother Teresa, eh?

  24. joshnunn Says:

    Michael, have you BEEN on the internet before? It’s full of people just saying stuff… Not everything is meant to be taken quite so seriously…

  25. Amy Says:

    Speaking of hyperbole…

  26. Madeinhead Says:

    Madeinhead here again…

    Michael: I admire Fincher’s direction far more than that of Zemeckis, and I recognize that the screenplay is THE weak point in the film. I have seen roughly 7000 films and devoured several books by Kael, Ebert, et al. I don’t aspire to their level of critical skill. Addressing issues like mood, atmosphere, pacing, technical accomplishment, and the nuances of effective acting performances… these subjects daunt me. It is indeed much easier to spot an obvious self-ripoff, and I agree it’s silly to say I’m doing the work of God by picking on Eric Roth (but then, I’m sure the bestower of that compliment knows full well he speaks in an Irish vein of half-hyperbole). Obviously, as the news tells us, Roth has been bankrupted by Madoff and needs no more ill fortune, but nor does he deserve credit for his contribution to the film-everyone else in the cast and crew brought their A game, and he did not.

    As for philistinism, I think the script rather philistine for avoiding the most interesting, difficult, and least-explored territory largely unexplored-the frustrating final years of a man aging backwards.

    Furthermore, a man aging backwards would benefit from peaking in wisdom and in energy at the same time. Such a man would be much more likely than the average man to accomplish grand ambitions, to sieze opportunities expertly, in late midlife, before his tragic final years. Button, on the other hand, siezes each opportunity timidly, and almost halfheartedly, throughout his life. To the age-old implicit question, “If youth only knew; if age only could,” Roth’s script answers unconvincingly, “The result wouldn’t be that impressive.” GK’s post herein raises similar issues of missed opportunities.

  27. MBG Says:

    Come clean, is this “Michael” a brilliant parody? Nobody is *actually* that stuffy, right? I mean, is that for REAL?

  28. Barry Says:

    Spot on! This movie was dull, boring, and too long. For good reason. I’ve seen it before under a different title. This movie just plain sucked!

  29. Brian Says:

    I don’t know if it’s laziness, or simply an attempt to cash in on a formula that worked previously. I noticed the same sort of thing a few years ago, while watching the Aviator. The scenes with young Howard Hughes being cautioned by his mother, leading him to take her advice too much to heart, were eerily similar to another film: RKO 281, about Orson Welles. Looking them up online, I found that they were both written by John Logan. This is not to say that RKO 281 was as successful as the Aviator, but the two seemed to use the same hackneyed psychology to show the drive of the main character, simply because it has worked before - albeit in more convincing ways (Silence of the Lambs, Psycho). IF a formula works, it will be repeated until it is rejected by the public. Then it will hibernate for ten years, and return to find a new audience (Slasher films, for example, or vampire movies, or superhero movies). Hopefully, it will be another ten years before we are provided with a script following the same pattern you point out - although by that time, people will aclaim it as a wonderful meshing of the stories of Oedipus Rex and Huckleberry Finn…

  30. richard voza Says:

    damn you! i was going to write something very similar. you’ve saved me the time, yet robbed me of the satisfaction.

    “damn! damn damn!”
    - dr. emmett brown

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