Film Versus Fiction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

If ever there was a screenwriter’s ideal storyline on which to base their potential film, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about the baby born as an old man has got to be it. I am sure there are others in existence adapted in a similar way, though I haven’t read any. In fact, in combination with my comparison between the Stephen King version of Shawshank and its film adaptation, and this Benjamin Button story —both examples were executed with a very different perspective on the part of the screenwriter — I am convinced that the substantial short story or novella are in some ways the best stories upon which to build something new.

Obviously we know that a good short story does not guarantee an equally good movie. As evidenced on wikipedia’s list of short fiction produced for the screen, justice to the writing clearly has not been served in many, many cases. A low budget, a poor script… why even bother? But I won’t wallow  too much on the fails. Instead, I want to highlight the potential that lies within the short story. And in particular, I want to do so as it pertains to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  

Benjamin ButtonFitzgerald’s story is a 57 page life outline of a man called Benjamin Button, who is born old and ages in reverse. Over the course of the 57 pages Benjamin lives  his life, really with quite a good attitude about his odd predicament. We get glimpses of his relationships, trials and successes; but to fit a whole life into such a short space doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for in depth elaborations or ruminations.

When a work of fiction (or a true story for that matter) is adapted for screen, I hear many different gripes, but there are two predominate complaints I will mention: the first is the idea that the film did not retain the core ideas of the original work, i.e. too much is changed; and the second is that too much gets left out i.e. the story becomes over-simplified.

In the case of Benjamin Button, I will first say that the film has quite sImply taken the idea of a man who ages in reverse, named him Benjamin Button, named his love interest Daisy as in the story, and ran for it. Could we just call it buying the rights to the movie name and basically ditching the rest? Yah pretty much. However, there was not a whole lot to drop, so it may not be a big deal for you, as it did not bother me.

The reason I surmise that a work of fiction with less detail than what might be found in a novel is the ideal work to base a film on, is because it can be moulded, reworked, added to, and elaborated on, until such time as its predecessor is only a distant shadow. When the Button stories are examined side by side, it seems as if the film has simply developed details on top of a framework that had not previously been fleshed out.

Sure there are definite changes from the original, but maybe the film is so different, so thought out and executed beautifully in its own right, that the new creation should not just be compared to its counterpart. Perhaps it could be seen as a complimentary piece, such as the strategy that was taken when adapting Philomena. The memoir written by Martin Sixsmith detailed the life of Anthony Lee, while the film chronicled the search efforts of Philomena Lee. So different in their perspectives and content, they add to each other, and so the package is much more interesting than if they were retelling the same story. Fitzgerald’s writing is a great foundation to start the story of Benjamin Button,  and the film builds for us the rest of the house.

If however, you were adamant about only taking in one or the other Button run-downs, watch the movie. Unless of course you are a die-hard Gatsby fan (but in that case I imagine you’ve read his complete works already). In my opinion, the creativity and emotion that went into the film is something that shouldn’t be missed.

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