The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by Scott F Fitzgerald

There are stories you want to read again and again and then there are stories, you wish, you hadn’t read once! Especially, if you have already seen and enjoyed a well made, sensitive movie, based on that story!

Movies v/s Books

You must be wondering why am I peddling the boat in a wrong direction. Aren’t books supposed to be better than movies? Isn’t the pleasure of drowning oneself in the vast ocean of words, imagining the story in one’s own mind, much much more gratifying than a hurriedly played out emotional drama on big screen? Aren’t the movies limited in some aspect as they are made and shot by a director’s perspective and also limited by the actors’ acting abilities?

Yes, you are absolutely right. Like any self confessed book lover, I too am partial to the written words than the bling on screen.

But, then there are exceptions, where you suddenly realize that “Oh! That movie you adored” owes much more to the brilliant tweaking by the screenwriter, director and actors, rather than the creative mantle of the original writer.

I had felt it while watching and reading Godfather. And, today as I finish reading Scott F. Fitzgerald’s story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, I am again surprised by David Fincher’s creative acumen, who turned an ordinary or rather farcical story on its head and spinned out an exquisite film out of it.

Benjamin Button: The Movie

A few days ago I had seen Brad Pitt aging backwards, gracefully as Benjamin Button in the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. I had reviewed and lavished high praises on it.

The credit list mentioned the name of Fitzgerald as the original writer, whose story of the same name had been adapted to make this movie. Riding high on excitement of watching such a unique concept and the fact that Fitzgerald, famed writer of The Great Gatsby, is the Mastermind, I simply couldn’t resist reading the original story.

Benjamin Button: The Story

But, alas, the original turned out to be a frivolous attempt by a not-so-serious Fitzgerald, who does little else than taking potshots at the natural phenomenon of aging and life. He had indeed hit upon a great idea as he envisaged what would happen if we age backwards, as we so often wish to. He did a complete somersault on the aging process and imagined how it would be to be born old and wise, and then become young and carefree, as the years rolled on.

Needless to say, the concept is a brilliant one and poses many philosophical and practical questions. It’s one thing to reminisce about setting mistakes of your youth right, or regret aging a bit too fast, but it is an altogether different ballgame to age backwards and transform into an ugly duckling after swarming around proudly as a wisecrack Swan!

And, this is what exactly happens to Benjamin Button. He is born in 1860 as an eighty years old, fully grown, stooped old man, who is far more comfortable with his grandfather than infants of his age. Born as a queer kid, he is forced to adapt himself to society’s expectations. He faces criticism everywhere and often branded as an imposter. His childhood and adolescent age is splattered with humiliation and regrets.

However, he tries to make the best of whatever is offered to him.  And manages to wed a beautiful young girl and establish himself as a sought after beau in the typical Fitzgerald fashion. Yet, it is his aging backwards curse that ultimately catches up and he is reduced to a young infant at the ripe age of Seventy, brought home weeping by his Forty plus son!

Fitzgerald’s Treatment

I must say the story has a brilliant concept. It has all the right ingredients to be converted into a tear jerking, nerve wrecking emotional drama. And, David Fincher has successfully done the same in his movie. But, unfortunately Fitzgerald missed the story’s sensitive background and reduced it into a badly worked out fantasy!

His tongue-in-cheek tone, does little justice to the serious subject. His lack of sympathy towards the main character, and reducing Benjamin into a queer, hardly cut any ice. The scenes, where Benjamin is repeatedly embarrassed and misunderstood by his family members could have been written in a much better fashion than dismissing the concerns in a humorous vein.

I have to say that Fitzgerald failed to grasp the real import of the story and despite having hit upon a brilliant idea, failed to execute it properly in the book. David Fincher, on the other hand deserves a standing applause for his treatment of the subject in a dignified manner. Brad Pitt’s remarkable acting took the movie to another level. And, I watched the movie in tears, while trying to digest the real story with a churn in my guts!

A big thumbs up to the movie, and avoid-at-all-costs rating to the original story, Irony, my friend is a big word! Watch out..

Anupama Sarkar

Leave a Reply