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How Different Is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 Short Story?

What do you think? Are the comparisons between the two movies justified?

By Josh Weiss
A split featuring Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Upon its theatrical release in late 2008, David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button drew comparisons — both favorable and unfavorable — to Robert ZemeckisForrest Gump. In addition to sharing the same screenwriter, Eric Roth, both movies are uncannily similar in their narrative structure.

Both tell the story of a disadvantaged young man underestimated by everyone he meets, who goes on to live an extraordinary life punctuated by a colorful cast of supporting characters and some of the most important historical events of the 20th century. Oh, and let's not forget the present-day narration framing device, as well as a main character pining after a close childhood friend who never really gives him the time of day until one of them becomes fabulously wealthy.

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Are Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Basically the Same Movie?

"I think people are reading a little more into that. I know they've made some things out of certain things that have unconsciously gone in, but they’re quite different movies," Roth said during an interview with Games Radar in 2009. "The biggest thing that is similar is probably the picturesque, incidental things. In its own way, Benjamin is a much more mature movie. It deals with a man’s life. Forrest Gump deals with his times."

To say the scribe simply ripped off his own Oscar-winning screenplay for Gump and called it a day would be something of an inequitable claim, because, like GumpBenjamin Button was adapted from pre-existing literary source material, specifically a 1922 short story by The Great Gatsby author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Now, aside from the basic premise of a man who ages backwards, entering the world as an old man and leaving it as an infant, the short story and its feature-length translation are vastly different animals. The late Roger Ebert summed it up best in his review, writing: "Fitzgerald wrote a comic farce, which Roth has made a forlorn elegy."

That's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the two compliment each other quite nicely. The short story, for example, reflects the carefree and whimsical attitude of the pre-Depression/Jazz Age period in which Fitzgerald penned his seminal works. The movie, on the other hand, offers up a sobering, postmodern view of the world, ruminating on the fragility of life and the tragic shattering of American naïveté in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina — the later of which features heavily in Benjamin Button's contemporary framing device.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Main Differences Between F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 Short Story and David Fincher's 2008 Film Adaptation

The reflection of Benjamin (Brad Pitt) wrapping his arm around Daisy (Cate Blanchett) in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

SHORT STORY:

  • Benjamin is born in 1860 at a hospital in Antebellum Baltimore
  • Benjamin’s mother survives childbirth
  • Benjamin’s father owns a hardware business
  • Benjamin is born as a fully-grown man of 70 and can speak in full sentences 
  • Benjamin goes home with his parents, who stubbornly pretend he is a child
  • Benjamin marries a general’s daughter and takes over his father’s hardware business when the older Button retires
  • Benjamin participates in the famous charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War
  • Benjamin grows tired of his aging wife and attends Harvard
  • Benjamin attempts to serve during World War I, but is rejected for being too young
  • Benjamin lives out his final years in the house of his son, Roscoe, who treats him as a nuisance

FILM ADAPTATION:

  • Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born in 1918, at the very end of World War I, in his parents’ lavish New Orleans home
  • Benjamin’s mother dies in childbirth 
  • Benjamin’s father (Jason Flemyng) owns a button business 
  • Benjamin is born as a wrinkled baby with all the ailments of advanced old age and cannot speak 
  • Benjamin is abandoned by his father on the steps of an old folks home run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson)
  • Benjamin falls in love with childhood friend Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and inherits his father’s button business after the older Button dies
  • Benjamin finds work on a tug boat and takes part in World War II
  • Benjamin has a daughter with Daisy, but decides to leave his family, not wanting to be a burden on them as he gets younger
  • Benjamin lives out his final years in the old folks home where he was raised

Catch David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button streaming now on Peacock!

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