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Button's not a jerk, he's tragic

December 26, 2008 |  1:19 pm


This week we began a discussion of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It takes about an hour to read and can be found online here at Project Gutenberg (with the rest of "Tales of the Jazz Age") and here on its own. Our discussion turns from the story itself to the film adaptation, which opened Dec. 25. John Fox says:

I didn’t find Benjamin Button to be a jerk. I just pitied him. It’s terrible that instead of growing old and unattractive with his wife, he starts looking better. It’s terrible that everyone expects him to halt his decline in age but he can’t. It’s terrible that he loses his Harvard sports prestige and his military status. To me Button seems less an unlikable character and more a tragic figure.

Yes, he’s a bit oblivious and clueless about his aging process. But he had high (perhaps unfounded) hopes that the process would stop: "He had hitherto hoped that once he reached a bodily age equivalent to his age in years, the grotesque phenomenon which had marked his birth would cease to function."

If this type of adaptation is acceptable, Carolyn, what wouldn't be an acceptable form of adaptation? That is, if taking the framework or concept of a story and pumping it up with new characters, new dynamics, and new relationships counts as adaptation, what wouldn't count? This isn’t rhetorical, I'm genuinely perplexed. It seems the acceptable aperture for adaptations has grown quite large. Is it when the original material for adaptation functions more as a promotional tool (look, the shiny pedigree of a Fitzgerald story!) than as a guideline for characters and plot?

Although I agree that screenwriters have more latitude in adapting short stories than they do with novels.

As far as the bell curve, Shaft, I think you meant it more as a geometrical shape and Carolyn, you thought of its technical, statistical function. The former works to describe the story, the latter doesn’t.

-- John Fox

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures