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Now or Then – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Forrest Gump

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Now: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)Then: Forrest Gump (1994)

In David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Brad Pitt plays a man who ages backward — he’s born in the wake of World War I as an old man, then becomes younger as the 20th century rolls along. Along the way, he falls in love with aspiring dancer Daisy (Cate Blanchett), and the two of them try to navigate a passionate romance through their unique predicament. The movie shares the same screenwriter (Eric Roth) with Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump, which might be why their structures feel very similar. In that earlier film, Tom Hanks plays a physically talented simpleton whose unburdened trip through post-World War II America mirrors the country’s loss of innocence. One won Oscars; the other clearly hopes to. But which one wins in a head-to-head matchup?

Our Hero’s Predicament
Benjamin Button: Because he’s an old man when his peers are young and vice versa, Benjamin is a perpetually misunderstood outsider who struggles all his life to connect with the world around him.
Forrest Gump: Being simple (he’s got an IQ of 75), Forrest is free of the angst that torments those around him: Even in the hell of Vietnam, he’s able to appreciate the beauty of the world (at least, when it stops raining). Maybe that’s why he winds up influencing everyone from Elvis to John Lennon to the guy who came up with the smiley face logo.
The Winner: Benjamin Button. Tom Hanks is great, but Benjamin cuts a more tragic figure.


The Love Interest

Benjamin Button: The love of
Benjamin’s life, Daisy (Blanchett) is the only one who understands him
— even recognizing a kindred soul when she’s 7 and he’s… well, 7
going on 73. Her passion for life feels like the flipside to his
detachment and wanderlust.
Forrest Gump: The love of Forrest’s life, Jenny (Robin
Wright) is the only one who understands him, but that doesn’t quite
stop her from wasting much of her life on strange men who treat her
like dirt. Her journey of torment and heartbreak is the flipside to
Forrest’s journey of blissful, kindhearted ignorance.
The Winner: A tie. Cate Blanchett brings an uncommon intensity to Daisy, but it’s hard not to be moved by Jenny’s plight.


The Foil

Benjamin Button: Benjamin meets many
characters on his travels, including Captain Mike (Jared Harris), a
tugboat captain on whose ship our swiftly de-aging hero finds work, and
learns about the horrors of war.
Forrest Gump: Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) leads Forrest through
Vietnam, but after his legs are shot off, he becomes an embittered
drunk — only to find new life as Forrest’s partner,
captaining a ship in their joint shrimping venture.
The Winner: Forrest Gump.


The Special Effects

Benjamin Button: CG imagery
helps transform the 44-year-old Brad Pitt first into a wizened old
man-child, and later into a smooth-skinned, 20-year-old version of Brad
Pitt.
Forrest Gump: CG imagery helped insert Tom Hanks into newsreel footage of JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon, and John Lennon.
The Winner:
Benjamin Button. Both movies feature unorthodox and groundbreaking use
of special effects, but Benjamin Button‘s achievement is almost
mind-blowing.

The Verdict
Benjamin Button: Curious is right — this
is a surprisingly dark and melancholy epic about what happens when life
passes you by — ironic, given that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original
story was a frivolous tale about the exact opposite.
Forrest Gump:
An epic comedy about looking up and smelling the roses, this
sentimental journey and its classic rock soundtrack struck a chord with
the Me Generation as it rebounded from the hangover of the Eighties.
Winner: Benjamin Button. We’re suckers for a sad story — and we wish Forrest Gump had toned down some of the schmaltz.

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