Not being big party animals, hubby and I decided a quiet New Year’s Eve at the movies was just the thing for us. We considered Marley & Me, then quickly concluded that we’d rather wait until we can rent it and sob our hearts out in the privacy of our own living room, and we thought about Seven Pounds, which we’d heard was good but didn’t know much about, but we settled on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I had heard that it was nothing like the short story on which it was based (by F. Scott Fitzgerald), so I decided to forego by usual M.O. and see the movie before I read the book (or, in this case, the 26-page short story).
Going in, all I really knew about the movie was that it was about a man who was born old and aged backwards, going gradually younger while everyone around him grew old. As Trish noted, that’s pretty much the only thing the movie has in common with the story, which I read just this morning. Without giving too much away, here are some of the big differences:
- The story is set in Baltimore and begins just before the outbreak of the Civil War; the movie is set in New Orleans and begins in 1929
- In the story, Benjamin is born a full-grown old man, complete with long white beard, and he walks, talks, and thinks like an old man. In the movie, Benjamin is born an average-sized baby with old man-like health problems and wrinkles. He has the brain of an infant in the body of an old man. So, in the story, Benjamin grows younger both physically and mentally; in the movie, he grows younger physically as he ages mentally.
- The story is cold and stark and doesn’t give many details of Benjamin’s life or his personal experiences; the film is warm and sentimental, a love story at its core, and Benjamin’s life is far from lonely.
- In the story, Benjamin’s family and friends do all they can to ignore and cover up his condition; in the movie, his loved ones accept that he is growing younger as they age, and they are happy for him as he gets to experience to glories of youth.
Some differences are bound to happen when you expand a 26-page story into a nearly three-hour-long film, but really, the only similarity between the story and the movie is the concept of a man born old who ages backwards.
As several reviewers and bloggers have said before me, at the heart of the movie is the idea that youth is wasted on the young. Because Benjamin has experienced the challenges and frustrations of living in an old man’s body, he appreciates the vitality and vigor that become available to him as his body grows younger.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I had high hopes for this film, and I’m happy to say that I loved it. (Meg Cabot didn’t, though…scroll down this post for her hilarious response.) The ensemble of supporting actors were colorful and sensitive, and I thought Brad Pitt did a lovely job portraying this wholly unique character. Cate Blanchett was as beautiful and captivating as always, and she conveyed the confusion, fear, and pain of watching the man she loved grow younger as she grew old with great depth and subtlety. It reminded me a bit of the conflict facing Henry and Clare in The Time Traveler’s Wife (which, incidentally, will also soon be a film).
I did find some of the framework story a bit distracting and unnecessary, and there’s this whole bit about a clock that runs backward that doesn’t really have much to do with anything, but otherwise, a great movie. Probably one of my favorites in quite a while. The story is romantic and moving, and it offers us an opportunity to think about life and aging in a new way.
In this case, I’m glad that I waited to read the story until after I saw the movie because if I had gone into the movie with the story fresh in my mind, I would have been distracted by the huge disparities. Really, I’m surprised they were able to call the film by the same name as the story with the two being so different. At almost three hours long, this movie is a marathon, but one worth seeing. And who doesn’t love Brad Pitt doing a James Dean-esque motorcycle ride?
Have you read the story and/or seen the movie? What did you think?
Download the full text here (it’s free!).