For some reason I tend to be very interested in the short story behind a movie. Many movies are made about books, but a number are also made from short stories. I am a big fan of the short form as you can see from my reviews of the site, Short Story America or in my Interview of its creator, Tim Johnston, so I am often interested in seeing the original story behind a movie.
When a book is made into a movie, the film maker has his work cut out for him. There is so much material to stuff into 120 minutes of movie that cutting of material and consolidation of characters is inevitable. This often leads to dissatisfaction among diehards of the book. When a movie is made from a short story, things are different. In fact it often requires expanding the material. In the case of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” you see an updating of the original story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the process most of the major facts of his life are changed.
In the original, Benjamin Button is born in 1860 in Baltimore. In the movie he is born in 1918. In the story his mother lives and, although embarrassed, his father sticks around. In the movie his mother dies in childbirth and his father abandons him. The facts of his strange malady of being born old and growing young are the same and many of the incidents are similar. In the story Benjamin is in the Spanish American War as an infantry officer, the movie depicts him as being in the navy in an auxiliary function in World War II. The romance is similar and different all at the same time. In the story he woos a woman who is seemingly half his age, when in fact they are both in their early twenties, but to the world Benjamin seems to be about fifty. They have a son and Benjamin loses interest in his wife when she becomes “too old” for him. The movie’s treatment of the romance is much sweeter – much like Forrest Gump – than the short story. Benjamin leaves after they have a daughter. He does this for altruistic reasons knowing that watching him regress will be unfair to the child and that his woman – Daisy – will need someone to grow old with. Nonetheless, Benjamin carries the torch for her until the end and after her husband dies and Benjamin reaches point he can no longer fend for himself, Daisy takes over his care. Truthfully this is a much more satisfying ending than Fitzgerald’s where Benjamin lives with a son who is as embarrassed by a toddler and eventually infant father as Benjamin’s own father was by a geriatric newborn.
I think that a film maker is freer to take such liberties with older stories – both short form or book – than they are with new blockbuster sensations where the fans are around to excoriate him at every plot twist. There are many other popular movies you should explore the short stories behind. Also on this list is the one behind the Total Recall movies, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Phillip K. Dick. It is fun to Monday Morning Quarterback the film maker and imagine what you might have done with the story.