The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — 3 stars (out of 4)
No, that’s not a typo in the title, I would never do such a thing! I am actually referring to both the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald. When I first heard about the movie, I honestly thought it sounded stupid. When I found out it was based on a short story by one of my favorite authors, I changed my tune completely.
Fitzgerald and Nick Hornby are my two favorite authors, but whereas I have read almost every letter put to page by Hornby, I have only read The Great Gatsby and a few of Fitzgerald’s short stories. (Granted, I have read The Great Gatsby several times.) I have decided it is time to change that and have found two of Fitzgerald’s other books which I shall attempt to read this summer, for summer is an exquisite time to take in the flowery language of Fitzgerald.
Last night, to kick off my summer of Fitzgerald, I read The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I liked the story but could not help but continually notice how it was nothing like the movie. The premise was the only thing the two stories had in common, a man is born in his 80s and ages in reverse. The movie uses its nearly three hour run-time to ruminate on the fleeting nature of life and love, something that seemed so very Fitzgerald-esque to me. The short story ruminated more on the acceptance of those who are different from us. The love story within is brief and callous but exciting nonetheless. Thinking back on it, Fitzgerald does in fact make some points on the way we feel about love at different ages and stages in our lives, but they are more truthful than kind.
So in essence, the movie out-Fitzgeralded Fitzgerald. Even the character played by Cate Blanchett in the movie is named Daisy (Daisy being the name of the female protagonist in The Great Gatsby), while the name of the same character in the story is is Hildegaard. And contemporary films or stories that are merely set in the past never quite capture the awkwardness of the characters or the decorum of the day the way stories written in the era do. (It’s always a little unnerving to me when a character “exclaims” something.) But both are lovely to look at, and interesting as ways in which the same story was told in different times.
I wanted to mention one other thing about short story to film conversions, and that is the case of The Shawshank Redemption(s). Having liked the movie so much, I read the Stephen King short story on which it was based (this was a few years ago, at least) and was very surprised that in those 30 pages or so lie the entirety of the two hours and twenty-two minutes of film. There was not much that was left out or added in the film version. The complete opposite of Benjamin Button.
What’s your favorite print to screen conversion? Or your least favorite? My favorite is Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and my least favorite is Nick Hornby’s About A Boy. Anything that’s better on screen than on the page? (My vote – Wonderboys.)