I immediately went home to read the short story since I love reading stories before watching their film versions. And since I was so busy with lots of things during my birthday (will share in my next post), hubby and I decided to watch the movie just after that big day. In as much as I loved the book story, the film was even lovelier. I enjoyed the almost 3 hours run of the film, and cried when the story tugged the heartstrings.
Some noticeable changes that I saw were also placed here in a review by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Loosely based on F. Scot Fitzgerald’s short story, tells a somewhat similar tale, but the difference is the “disability”—Benjamin ages backwards as he journeys through life.
He begins life with one foot on the grave and then grows “younger” over the years, passing middle life, adolescence, childhood, and finally, infancy.
Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is on her deathbed in a hospital in New Orleans, as hurricane Katrina approaches in 2005. She asks her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond), to read to her the diary written by Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt). From this point on, the story is then told from the perspective of Benjamin and in his own voice.
Benjamin is born “under unusual circumstances.” Although newborn, he has the physical appearance of an 80-year-old man. Horrified by the sight of his son, his father, Thomas (Jason Flemying), abandons him on the doorstep of a retirement home where he is adopted by Queenie (Taraji Henson), who also gives him her name.
Over the course of time, Benjamin “grows younger” and also meets his first love, a young girl named Daisy, whose grandmother lives in the elderly home. Eventually the two part ways as Benjamin goes on to work on the tugboat of Captain Mike (Jared Harris). He becomes younger as each year passes and goes on a colorful journey that involves having an affair with Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton), whose husband is a British spy; maintaining a close relationship with Thomas, who later reveals that he is his father; and also participating in World War II with Captain Mike.
Upon returning home from the war, Benjamin rekindles his romance with Daisy. But they face a greater challenge of never being able to grow old together as they age in opposite directions.
Directed by David Fincher and written by Eric Roth (who wrote “Forrest Gump”), the movie adaptation is significantly different from Fitzgerald’s short story. However, this does not hinder the way that Benjamin’s reverse-aging story is beautifully told.
In the original story, Benjamin is not abandoned but reluctantly raised by his father, Roger. The setting is also changed, from a 19th century Baltimore in the story to New Orleans in the movie.
Moreover, Benjamin’s characterization in the film is nothing short of amazing. From an old man becoming a 25-year-old charmer, Pitt delivers beautifully. The only thing peculiar about Pitt’s role is that it is difficult to imagine him portraying a man in his mid-twenties sans the boyish-wavy hair and the digital effects on his face.
On the other hand, Blanchett’s Daisy radiates beauty, leaving no doubt as to why Benjamin continues to pursue her despite her aging, making it appear that she’s really his life’s quest and nothing else.
But the original story is significantly different. In the film, Benjamin swears to Daisy that he would continue to love her even as he grows “younger” and as she grows older. This is highlighted in the film when Benjamin, chronologically aged 60-plus but looks 20, shares a passionate night with the elderly Daisy. In Fitzgerald’s story, as Benjamin grows younger, he becomes less attracted to his beau and wife, whose name is Hildegarde. As a “young” man, he would constantly leave his old wife most of the time to party and flirt with younger women, who share the same age as his youthful looks. In other words, the original story depicts a more human Benjamin, one who gives in to worldly temptations.
In the story, too, Benjamin grows up in different circumstances. He goes to Harvard, plays college football, and gets married, among others. Also in the short story, Benjamin is already talking, acting and dressing like an adult a couple of hours after he was born.
The characterization of his father in the original story and the film also differ dramatically. If the film portrays a father who hated his son’s physical appearance but shows remorse in the end, the original story, on the other hand, depicts a father who raises Benjamin but nonetheless forces him to act according to his chronological age.
Although the original short story is only roughly 11 chapters long, the plot in the film is protracted into a magnificent two-and-a-half-hour epic that features several picturesque scenes with Benjamin—experiencing his “first time” at the age of 20 even though he looks no less than 65, then later riding a motorcycle at the age of 50 but with the ruggedly handsome looks of a young adult.
Perhaps one drawback in the film is that it shows one too many scenes involving Caroline and Daisy in the hospital where the former reads out Benjamin’s diary. It somehow makes viewers disconnected from the main plot, which is Benjamin’s backward fate.
Nevertheless, it’s a rare and charming plot—the premise of aging backwards, intertwined with love between two people who are growing old in opposite directions—it’s about the wonders of time, old age and frailty, and above all, love’s transcendence.
I say read it, and believe in the power of the human mind.
Watch it, and believe in the power of love.
A true evidence of the quote: Love transcends all differences, even ages.