Movie vs Short Story

by Rachel Baker on May 16, 2011

Last night, I watched “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.  Last week, I read the short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Rarely will I watch a movie based on a book/story so close after I’ve just read the story.  I did this time because the opportunity presented itself.

I wanted to see the movie because I was curious about how this story could be told in a full-length (and then some – almost three hours) movie.  Frankly, I was disappointed that the movie strayed so far away from the Fitzgerald’s short story.  However, once I got over that (about the time old man Benjamin was able to start walking), I was able to focus on the movie for what it was – just a movie.  The movie had a beautiful story to tell, though in some areas it was very slow.  When I looked up the movie this morning, I saw many review snippets that made me wonder if the reviewers had ever read the short story – in fairness to the reviewers, I didn’t read the whole reviews, just the quotes.  I will probably go back and read some of them to see if they even mention the differences between movie and story.

I loved the short story. I’m not a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, so little of a fan that at one point, I think I swore I’d never read him again after reading four of them. The downfall for me in reading his novels is there’s too many details and too much flowery language that does nothing to move the story forward.  I’ve never been able to play the movie in my head as I read, too many meaningless words got in the way of the pictures developing.  This was not the case with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Every word moved you through Benjamin’s life at a purposeful pace.  Interestingly, I had pictures in my head throughout the whole story – and in fairness, maybe that’s why the movie was disappointing at first.

I recognize I’m about to compare apples and oranges here, but there’s a point, so bear with me.  Some of the best movies based on Stephen King’s works come from short stories.  For the most part, King novels do not translate well into movies – there’s just too much detail and too many story archs. However, his short stories and novellas can be made into good movies.  I was interested in seeing the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” because like a King story, taking into account the story would be followed, there was a fascination about how the writers/directors would translate this wonderful story into film.  But, the story wasn’t followed; basically, the movie was loosely based on the short story (ps. not reflected in the credits at all, giving the impression they followed the story), with only the title, the main character’s name, and the odd aging process being the same.  If the short story had been followed, I think it could have been a really fascinating dark-ish movie; instead, I got a warm fuzzy feeling about it – which is not really what I was looking for. For someone who read the story, the movie was an epic fail.  For someone who had not, it was probably great.

I feel like the movie did a great disservice to Fitzgerald and his The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

All that said, I’m going to leave you with a quote from the movie (one I certainly don’t remember being in the story):

In a voice over, Benjamin reads a letter to his daughter (ps.  in the story he has a son who is taking care of him for a time, as he grows very young):

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

Benjamin Button became something else in the movie.  I guess it wasn’t too late or too early to give him a much fuller life in the movie than what Fitzgerald gave him originally.

Regardless, its a wonderful sentiment to remember in our day to day living.

For anyone who would like to read the short story, its available here.

If you are interested in downloading the collection, Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald you can download the full version here for free on your kindle.  (FYI: the Table of Content cannot be used for navigation purposes)

or if you don’t have a Kindle or want to have the physical book in your hands, the complete book can be bought here for $23.18.

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