Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

Will the Real Benjamin Button Please Stand Up?

Recently I went to see the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Being a student of literature in addition to loving all things movies, I was excited to see this adaptation by Eric Roth, who also wrote the screenplay for Forrest Gump.

 

Since the storyline of the movie revolves around Hurricane Katrina, I knew that certain liberties must have been taken with the original source material, which was published in the 1920s.  So I decided to compare and contrast the two and see how close the movie was to the original.

 

What I discovered is that Fitzgerald’s Benjamin Button is almost unrecognizable to the movie.  They both share the element of aging in reverse, but Fitzgerald’s Button is born and raised in the “social and financial” elite of Antebellum Baltimore, not New Orleans. He is also born fully grown (with a long smoke-colored beard) and is able to speak quite articulately and considered a type of Southern gentleman.  What Fitzgerald is probably doing here is using Button as a literary metaphor.  In short: Benjamin Button could be seen as an exaggerated symbol of the Southern social elite, a symbol of the Confederate mentality. 

 

Ironically, in the Fitzgerald story Button is raised primarily by his father (not abandoned) and wears a suit.  He tries to enroll in Yale, but he is rejected.  They wouldn’t take Benjamin Button when he appeared “old” at an Ivy League college, but they’ll take someone with Button’s mentality when he is younger at Harvard.  Remember, Benjamin Button was born in the social elitism of pre-Civil War South. Fitzgerald goes so far as to insinuate that Button is in fact John Wilkes Booth in disguise. (Note: John Wilkes Booth was born in Maryland). There is no love story with Daisy as in the movie, Fitzgerald’s Button marries into the blue blood family of Hildegarde Moncrief and they have a boy named Roscoe, not a daughter as portrayed in the film.  Fitzgerald’s Button is the wealthy owner of a hardware company (not buttons) during the Gilded Age and a Brigadier General during the Spanish-American War.  So it would seem, that Fitzgerald is drawing comparisons to all these different elements of American society through the metaphor of the Benjamin Button character.

 

So all in all, it makes for an interesting short story but would probably make a lousy movie if it were a faithful adaptation.  I was surprised however, how many story similarities there were with the movie version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the movie version of Forrest Gump.  Here is an entry on the blog called “Madeinhead” noting the similarities of the two.  I do not blame Roth, however.  I’m sure he probably turned in a great first draft and a movie producer said something to the effect of, “Not enough explosions, give me Forrest Gump.” 

 

 

The real F. Scott Fitzgerald

The real F. Scott Fitzgerald

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2 Comments»

  Eric Yang wrote @

Did you like the movie? Seems like you aren’t sure…

  backwardpresent wrote @

I personally didn’t like the movie. But I hesitate to call it a bad movie because I know a lot of people liked it. However, I do feel safe in saying that it was an unsuccessful adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald for the reasons I outlined.


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