The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | Adapting literature

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19th May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18. This quote from Mark Twain inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write his short story „The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 1922. Just recently, in 2008, it has been adapted as a motion picture movie directed by David Fincher with great success.

There have been many adaption of literature into film and the quality of the outcome as well as the number of parallels to the original work often differ greatly. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a very extreme example and for a long time the nouvelle wasn’t even considered to possibly be turned into a movie due to the lack of techniques to have the reversed aging process of Benjamin Button seem real.

I found the idea of living life backwards and the difficulties and experiences which are linked to such an extraordinary phenomenon very appealing. Therefore I wanted to find out more about it and read the short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even though book and film differ in several ways, the main idea is the same and so fascinating that I decided to do my research paper on comparing the book with the movie.

B: I As we will see, the movie is a very loose adaption of the book, basically, the only consistent occurrence in both the movie and the book is Benjamin Buttons unusual, reversed aging process. Yet not even this is completely similar: while the book´s character of Benjamin Button has the mental age of 80 at the end of his life, the movie’s version gives Benjamin the mindset of an infant trapped in an 80 year old body.

Film:

The story starts at the day when Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. At this very day Daisy Williams is waiting in a New Orleans hospital on her deathbed for her end to come. There with her is her daughter Caroline, who stands by her and reads to her mum out loud of a diary given to her by a man called Benjamin. His mother died by giving birth to him. Now the difference to all the other newborn babies is that he was old and wrinkled. Thomas Button, his father, horrified of his son leaves him on the doorsteps of an elderly care-home. Where Queenie a black NANNA? Takes him in and treats him like her own son. Benjamin fits in well even though of his young age he looks as old as most of the residents. Soon Benjamin realizes that he is physically growing younger – not older. SZENE . Early in his life, he meets Daisy, the woman of his life which he first meets when she’s a young child. Both lives go different ways and sometimes their paths even cross each other. Until they finally can manage to make a life together, which however because of there different fates isn’t of a long duration. (QUELLE)

Book:

Benjamin Button was born in 1860 in a hospital in Baltimore. But not as a baby, he had the mind and appearance of an old man in his 80’s. Mr Roger Button, Benjamin’s father, is member of a eminently respectable family and the president of Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware. Because of his high social status he has difficulties accepting his son for who he was. He tries to build up the illusion that his son is in no aspect different from any other person. The times society cared a lot for conformity and therefore had very little tolerance for this curious case of Benjamin Button. Benjamin still lives a very full live – just in a different kind of way. He ages backwards at the same rate as everybody else is getting older. In 1880 Benjamin Button is twenty years old (but appears approximately 50) and meets and falls in love with Hildergarde the beautiful daughter of General Moncrief. Hildegarde turns out to be attracted to older men and six month later against all moral standards because of their great age difference the get married and even have a son called Roscoe.

While Benjamin is getting younger Hildegarde is getting older, and he soon looses interest in her „He wondered what possible fascination she had ever exercised over him.”(p.37) Benjamin goes off to fight in the Spanish American War, as he returns home he appears about the same age as his own son, Roscoe. Growing younger everyday he attends Harvard University at the age of 18. After Benjamin graduates he is young enough to go to prep school, until he ends up beeing playmates with Roscoe’s son. Without being able to stop the reversed ageing process he goes to kindergarden until he finally is even too young for that. As he grows younger and younger he looses the memory of his entire past life until “..it was all dark”(p.52)

……

While the plotline is a complete different one when comparing book and film, there are however obstacles Benjamin Button has to overcome during his lifetime. In the book mainly because of the nonacceptance of society and in the movie because of

II b ; One main theme in the book is how a new born baby, physically and mentally in his 80s, is accepted into society. In the short story, which plays in 1860(first few lines), Benjamin is born in the hospital and right from the beginning one can see how Benjamin is considered to be beneath social standards of that time. When Mr Button arrives at the hospital, the doctor even worries about his own reputation : “Do you imagine a case like this will help my professional reputation?

One more would ruin me–ruin anybody.” (Page 4). Mr Button still unsuspecting of what happened has to realize, that the doctor who brought himself into the world and had been the family´s physician for over 40 years, has no interest in seeing any of the Buttons ever again as he makes clear by saying : „I’m through with you! I don’t want to see you or any of your relatives ever again! Good-bye!” (Page 4)

It is not only the doctor who is upset and hostile. It seems like the whole hospital is worried because of this unusual event..

The hospital will never regain its flawless reputation after—-“(Page 6) complaint the nurse seconds before she showed Mr Button the way to his new born child.

The fact that his new born baby actually is an old man outrages Mr. Button to a degree, that he even calls his own son an imposter and lier (page 8). This shows very well how the society back then reacts to phenomenons which do not fit their norms and believes.

From this moment on, Roger Button does everything in his power to threat Benjamin appropriate to his age. He wants to keep the old age of Benjamin a secret and even thinks further what the best solution would be to do so.

„If, say, he could only find a very large boy’s suit, he might cut off that long and awful beard, dye the white hair brown, and thus manage to conceal the worst, and to retain something of his own self-respect – not to mention his position in Baltimore society .”

Roger Button is determined to keep his illusion alive and deny the obvious which is made very clear by the following words :Benjamin was a „baby, and a baby he should remain”(page 15)

“What the mishap would have cost the Buttons and their kinsfolk socially cannot be determined” (page 17) But the city’s attention is very soon drawn onto other things – the outbreak of the Civil War.

By the age of twelve Benjamin’s parents got used to him and even felt that he was not any different from other children. This was the time when Benjamin was not troubled by society because of his appearance.

Later in the book though he has once again troubles to find his place in society. This occurs when Benjamin Button who just passed his entrance examination to Yale college is called into the Yale registrar’s office to receive his schedule. Benjamin can’t die his hair before he enters the office and therefore can’t hide his elderly appearance. The registrar first thought he’d be talking to Mr Roger Button. As Benjamin made is case clear and insists on his age of eighteen, once again Benjamin meets with his „curse” he has to deal with since his birth.

The idea!” the registrar shouted. “A man of your age

trying to enter here as a freshman. Eighteen years old, are you? Well,I’ll give you eighteen minutes to get out of town.” (Page 23)

Being unable to gain a proper education at college because of the social inacceptance of his case he starts working for his father’s company Roger Button & Co. During this time, Benjamin also starts to mingle with society and meets the daughter of General Moncrief, HildegardeIt whom he marries 6 months later. The story of Benjamin’s birth is being remembered again but many stories were made up such as „Benjamin was really the father of Roger Button, that he was his brother who had been in prison for forty years”(page 31) Therefore the real story is forgotten or just so unbelievable that nobody believes it, not even his own wife.

Many years Benjamin is able to life a happy life without having to worry about his physical aging process which makes him appear younger by the day, until he comes back from the Civil War to his wife and has to face that his ever younger appearance drives his wife nuts, she honestly believes it’s his way of annoying her and she is in the illusion that he could stop his aging process any time he wants.

“But, Hildegarde, I can’t help it.”

“You can too. You’re simply stubborn. You think you don’t want to be like any one else.” (page 37)

After that point, the gab between them begins to widen. Benjamin keeps getting younger until he is a young boy. He receives a letter from the army asking him, since he served as an officer with a higher rank during the Spanish-American War to go back into service. He sees this as an opportunity to go back in time and do the duty he once enjoyed so much. Again society does not comply with his intentions. He arrives at the headquarters where he is turned down and sent home considered a little boy who wanted to play soldier.

This also is the last conflict concerning the aspect of society and Benjam’s process of becoming younger. From that moment on Benjamin continues living his life backwards going back to kindergarden then under a nanny´s custody – getting younger and younger until he’s finally gone.

The skit of “Benjamin Button” is that the need for social self-preservation plays such a big role,that it blinds everyone from seeing Benjamin’s fate for what it is, and for accepting him for the person he is. Fitzgerald criticizes the community of the upper class who’s reputation mainly is secured throughout conformity and their status is determend by their wealth.

The social aspect or concerns about someone´s reputation and how it’s influencing the book however is almost absent in the whole movie. In the film, Benjamin appears like a child, but his appearance still is so shocking to Mr. Button (PHOTO) that he grabs the baby wanting to get rid of him. It seems like he even attempts to throw the little baby into the river. (9:57) The appearance of a police officer stops that thought and he leaves Benjamin with 18 Dollars on the steps leading to a New Orleans boardinghouse for the elderly , the Nolan House (QUELLE), where Queenie, takes him in and raises him like he was her own child, he’s accepted right away. There is no hint in the movie that Mr Button gave his son away for any other reason than his outer appearance .Mr Button:”I thought you were a monster” (1:43:23)

c;

In the movie, Benjamin Button has to overcome several obstacles linked to his reversed aging process such as witnessing people constantly dying in front of his eyes during his earlier time in the Nolan House, where „death was a common visitor.” (25:03) When Benjamin talks about his process about getting younger with one of the residents living in the Nolan House. It’s made pretty clear by the words of the resident what heavy burden he has to carry upon his shoulders. „Well I feel sorry for you, you have to see everybody you love die before you do, it’s an aweful responsibility”(52:47).

In the movie there’s a love story which helps to understand what it means to live a life backwards like Benjamin does. He meets Daisy who is the grandchild of Miss Fall?? and sometimes comes to visit her over the weekends at the Nolan House. Benjamin falls in love with Daisy „ from the first time he saw” her (36:47) But her being only 10 and him physically in his 70’s and the mentally young age of both makes a romance impossible – at least for this moment. It turns out to be a love story which develops slowly, over the course of many decades. At the age of 17, Benjamin goes on a long intense trip on a tugboat. Even though Daisy and Benjamin write each other constantly, many years pass until they meet each other again in the Nolan House in 1945 when Benjamin is 26 years old. Even though Daisy makes strong suggestions to sleep with Benjamin, he turns her down for the reason that she is to be leaving the next morning. This incident though is not important for the aspect which is discussed here. It’s mentioned here only for the better understanding of the plotline.

However in spring 1962, 19 years later Daisy and Benjamin meet again in New Orleans at the Nolan House where they both fall in love with each other at once.

The fact that Daisy is many years older than Benjamin seems to be irrelevant for quite a long time until the reality of his curse pops back into his life. Daisy gets pregnant and Benjamin asks himself the question :”How can I be a father when I’m heading in the other direction?” Even though his wife knows the consequences she gives him words of encouragement and insists that they will somehow make it work. But life doesn’t always go according to one´s wishes, therefore not long after the baby is born Benjamin realizes that his son needs a father and not a playmate. He makes a very tough decision and goes away, leaving his wife and daughter with enough money to live a good life. Giving up the love of his life is probably the biggest obstacle Benjamin has to overcome because of his reversed aging process.

SETTING:

III a;Charactere

In the short story Benjamin is born as “an old man apparently about seventy years of age.”(p.7) He has almost white hair and “a long smoke-colored beard”(p.7) Benjamin starts out with a lot of demanding and complaining. Just born and still in the hospital he announces “This is a fine place to keep a youngster of quiet tastes. With all this yelling and howling, I haven’t been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked for something to eat.”(p.9) He also doesn’t act anything like a baby. When he is alone he secretely smokes cigares and finds more interest in an encyclopedia than in kids´ toys.(FOOTNOTE) Instead of playing with children of his age he finds more pleasure in sitting and talking to his grandfather. Benjamin occassionally breaks things on purpose to create the illusion beeing a normal baby just to delighten his father. “he only did these thing because they were expected of him, and because he was by nature obliging.”(p.18) This is also the reason why he dies his hair and shaves his beard, he tries to please everybody around him even if he’s not comfortable with it. Aging backwards for Benjamin means to overcome many obstacles as shown above and still Benjamin always keeps his dignity and never complains about his faith. “Benjamin, once he left the hospital, took life as he found it.”(p. 17) As Benjamin gets older, or younger for this matter, he turns out to be very intelligent and succesfull in what he does. Not only did he graduate from Havard University but also made his father’s company way more profitable due his new ideas. He also becomes an expert in dancing and great in playing golf. During his army time in the Spanish-American War in 1898 he becomes a lieutenant-colonel. “He was slightly wounded, and received a medal.” Benjamin also becomes “more and more attracted by the gay side of life.” He was “dancing with the prettiest of the young married women, and chatting with the most popular of the dêbutantes”.1912 though is a turning point in Benjamin’s life. His glory years seem to be over now- as his physical appearance now is the one of a sixteen year old teenager his mental ability grows back as well. And therefore his social status is following the same process, he finds “himself much alone, except for the companionship of three or four fifteen-year-old boys in the neighborhood.” Now at the end of his life he behaves and thinks the way he was supposed to during his early years. He reads little boy’s stories and for him now “playing with little stripes was the most fascinating game in the world.”(p.49). He is a little boy now and “he was very happy”(p.49) Slowely he starts to forget – “no token came to him of his brave days at college, of the glittering years when he was flustered the hearts of many girls.” “And then he remembered nothing.”

In the movie Benjamin starts his life by looking like a normal baby except for his skin which is heavily wrinkeled, just like the skin of an old person. He cries like any other baby but after a closer examination by the doctor they find out that his health condition is rather in a state which can be found by elderly people than by a newborn child. Details… then book…accommodating

Father: In the story Benjamin’s dad is very present right from the beginning. He is a succesfull man and helds a high position, “both social and financial”. And therefore is always concered about other people’s opinions of him. He seems to not be very open for things he doesn’t understand or he doesn’t believe in. Which is shown by his attempt raising his son Benjamin the “normal” way, which is only made possible through illusions he built for himself to avoid the confrontation with the truth. He has a hard time accepting Benjamin as his son until he gets older which is either because of Benjamin’s trumendous success with the company (It was mainly due him that the family fortune was doubled chpt. 7) or due to the fact that Benjamin finally appears younger than his dad.

In the movie however his name is Thomas Button. He also is the head of a successful Button company, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about what other people think about him, he even seems like a man without any scruble by abondoning his son just because of his appearance. Later in the movie it accured that Mr Button is sick and his time on earth is very limited. He wants to make up for everything and regrets his mistakes. He tells Benjamin that he was his father and furthermore tells him that he “should never have abondoned ” him (1:34:37). Though the apolgy was long overdue and what he did unforgivable this small move still makes him a sympathic character at the end.

Mother: While in the book the mother is alive there isn’t anything else mentioned about her. In the movie however Benjamin’s biological mother dies giving birth to Benjamin. At her place steps Queenie, his black surrogate mother. This character is very strong and independant, it’s basically her who runs the whole Nolan House with all its elderly residents. Which also shows how responsible and caring she is. Her joyfull acting and her supportiveness towards Benjamin thouroughout the movie makes her a loveable character.

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