Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Button, Button

My usual adage of “The original source is always better” went out the window after watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
When the movie came out in 2008, I promptly avoided it. I thought the premise strange, that a baby would experience life backwards–going from old and decrepit to incapacitated infant. It especially seemed odd, even a bit creepy, since a romance was part of the plot.

Aging backwards. Not a new concept, apparently backwards aging is not a truly new trope. After all, Shakespeare hinted at our returning to our infancy state in his “Seven Ages” poem.

I also was a bit leery of Brad Pitt at the time. Fight Club isn’t exactly my type of genre. The male progeny tried to interest me (who can resist bonding with their sons via a movie?) but after a few minutes of gruesome artsy cinema, I deferred. However, since Fight Club Pitt has appeared in movies I do like, such as the Oceans triple, and Mr and Mrs Smith. Into the library basket went Benjamin Button as I gathered movies for the week. I didn’t realize I was committing to two and a half hours.

A sick day, and no energy for reading and in popped the movie. I sat spellbound. I even cried at the end. And was a bit indignant that Brad Pitt got passed over for an Academy Award. This trailer captures the heart of the movie well:

The most interesting part for me is that the movie is based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. The fantasy genre intrigued me because I didn’t peg FSF for writing anything but brooding rebellious characters from the Roaring Twenties. The story’s biting satirical tone is very much Twain, and I learned that Fitz was indeed influenced by MT, who had made a comment about what a shame we don’t experience the best years, our older years, first. Interestingly enough, the only thing the movie and short story have in common is the title and premise. Here is the story link:


Any of you been surprised by the film being actually better than the written work?

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15 thoughts on “Button, Button

  1. Oh, sure. if all you are determining is which version is “better” (who knows what that means to each individual), I’m assuming that means which you LIKED better. The earliest one I remember was the 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird. The movie made a story vivid for me which had only been a mandatory classroom assignment as a book.

    My overall opinion is that movie adaptations from literature can only be fairly compared to other movies, and to other movie adaptations – because HELLO – movies aren’t constructed or consumed like books are. When reading you have complete control over how fast, when to stop and start, what parts to read in what order (ever skipped to the end?), and you can re-read parts you want to understand better or experience again.

    A movie is made for the way it gets presented in a theater, even though people will buy copies after. The ticket purchaser has no control over the pacing of the presentation. The movie comes to you scene by scene like a multi-course meal in a restaurant. You don’t determine how fast you get served, the cooks and waitpersons do. The movies are made to be viewed in one sitting, in a specific order. Books are written with a wide variety of intents toward or clarity more and less immediacy. It’s much harder to make a movie featuring an unreliable narrator, and it’s also hard to imply anything. It mostly all has to be “shown”, usually in chronological order, unlike books. Flashbacks and flash forwards are harder to pull off in movies. They confuse more viewers than readers.

    Because feature films are locked into a 2-3 hour window it affects how much an adaptation can be “faithful” to a book or story. Long books will get edited, or lose characters and plot events, unless they decide to make multiple movies out of a single book. Short stories will get expanded. Statistically, expansions from short stories tend to work more smoothly. Many sci-fi and fantasy films are from short stories or novellas, and some whole genres like Film Noir are mostly short story adaptations.

    There are other kinds of considerations including the need to change things when adapting, to make a movie “work” as a movie. Last night I was watching a clip show with Phil Alden Robinson speaking about writing and directing the adaptation of “Field of Dreams”. He related how in the book the field-builder talks to the ghost of Shoeless Joe about his father having been a baseball player in the first few pages, and he asks if building the field will make it possible for his dead father to come back and play. For the movie, Robinson decided to make that point the emotional and actual climax of the movie, so he treated Dad’s reappearance as a mystery, revealing it as a concluding surprise and keeping the audience in suspense until then.

    The book works as a book. The movie works as a movie. Win-win.

  2. I haven’t seen Benjamin Button, but I want to now!

    For me, when I watch something I’ve read, (as long as the production is good in itself), I tend to be happy if I feel they’ve captured the essence of what the original was really about, i.e. the message, the emotion, the point. I can forgive a lot of changes to the plot and characters if I feel they’ve been true to what the point was of the book. Otherwise it’s just something completely different and should just be seen as that.

  3. I can’t recall a movie that was ever than the book. But my memory often doesn’t serve me well in this regard. It is interesting that the movie was based on a Fitzgerald story, so I might have to give this one a peek.

  4. I had forgotten that the movie was based on a Fitzgerald story (or perhaps I never knew). I saw the movie but have never read the story so will do so and then see the movie again.

    I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the movie The Namesake. I thought it as good as the book but in a different way- the mother was the leading character in one while the son was the leading character in the other.

  5. Are you saying that Mork & Mindy borrowed from a writer with such a fine pedigree? Amazing.

    As for your question, I firmly believe that the film Glengarry Glen Ross is far superior to the play. The addition of the Alec Baldwin character (who is not in the play) ups the stakes considerably, and allows the viewer to better understand why these horrible, desperate men do such horrible and desperate things.

  6. I had avoided this movie for similar reasons to you but will have a look at it on your recommendation. I hadn’t realized Cate Blanchett was in it. Usually you can rely on her choice of scripts which would have cancelled out my avoidance of the other person ! Thanks,

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