The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- Short Story Review


"Mr. Button's eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he saw. Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partly crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-colored beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window. He looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled question."

I don't intend to talk about movies very often on this blog, but because The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I figured I could get away with it.

I saw the movie the day after Christmas with my mother and sister (I'm home for winter break) and enjoyed it. The film was shot beautifully, although the teenage version of Brad Pitt was unconvincing (he still had old eyes; they should have begun using a different actor at that point) I liked the story well enough, although it seemed to lack a depth, and I was curious to read the original short story on which the movie was based.

I found the full text of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" online here, along with the rest of Fitzgerald's short story collection, Tales of the Jazz Age. I have to say I was not impressed. First of all, the "baby" born in the Fitzgerald version is a full-grown man, 5 feet 8 inches tall, to be precise. This is illogical. Of course the whole idea of aging backwards is illogical, but still, a fantasy must abide by the obvious laws of physics, or else explain them away (For example, if everyone in a story has x-ray vision, and then the protagonist says that he doesn't know what's going behind the wall, you have to explain why his x-ray vision isn't working).

In this case, the story seems to inhabit the same world that we live in, so aside from the gimmick of aging backwards, all other physical laws should be maintained (No walking on the ceiling). Herein lies my problem with the story: no woman can give birth to a full-grown man. Not only is he born full-grown, he has also been born with the ability to speak (why?) and a taste for expensive cigars (really?).

The story continues as Mr. Buttons insists on treating a full-grown, talking, cigar-smoking man as a newborn baby, insisting on dressing him up in children's clothes (made-to-order, of course) and giving him a rattle to play with. Benjamin, however, continues to act the age he looks, rather than the age he is, as he ages right back into the cradle. The movie on the other hand gives Benjamin a body that ages backward but a mind that moves forward, just like anyone else, which leads to more interesting situations.

The only thing the story and the movie have in common is the gimmick of a man who ages backward, and for that I'm glad, because at least the movie was enjoyable. Do you agree?

For a more thorough discussion of the movie at Life in the Short Lane, click here.

A preview for those who have not yet seen the movie:



Buy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Amazon

Buy Six Tales of the Jazz Age from Amazon.com

6 comments:

sheri said...

I linked to you at the bottom of my post.

http://anovelmenagerie.com/ghost/2008/12/29/mondays-movie-marley/

meg89 said...

Thanks!

Margo said...

Hi, Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on and linking my review! That is fascinating that the short story is so different... I was kind of wondering how they got a 3 hr. movie out of a Fitzgerald short story. I agree the movie was enjoyable. I notice I'm harder on movies than books when I review them... I think there are probably less than 10 movies I'd give 5 stars (or popcorns) from the past 10 years (and they're not obvious choices). I'm enjoying your blog and will stop by again soon!

meg89 said...

I have to say I go the other way, I expect a lot more from my books than I do from my movies, although I seem to be more picky about everything lately!

Sarah, The New Girl said...

Hi! Stumbled on your blog... I had no idea Fitzgerald was behind The Curious Case... if I had learned that from someone else, I probably would have rushed out and bought a collection of his short stories before watching the movie! But thanks to your review I'll save my B&N gift card on something else :)

stateofdenmark2 said...

Yes, logistically the whole giving birth to a grown man isn't possible... but then again, neither is aging backwards, right? I kind of dug the magical realism aspect of this story. I also loved that the father insisted on treating him like a child, while he in fact was a grown man. I liked the idea of him breaking windows just to please his dad. I haven't seen the movie though, so I don't have anything to compare it to.

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