The Curious Case of Fitzgerald's Benjamin Button

Life can only be understood backward.
It must be lived forward.~ Soren Kierkegaard

I read the short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" when I was an undergrad at Rutgers for a course on F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was going through a Fitzgerald phase then - the taunting proximity of his Princeton was probably a factor. The story is the closest thing to science-fiction that he ever wrote.

It's the story of Benjamin who is born in 1860 and looks like a seventy-year-old man and speaks to his father. Benjamin is aging backwards.

I liked the scene where at "18" he attempts to enroll at Yale University. Because he ran out of hair dye the day of his interview, the admissions folks turn him away because his gray hair makes him look 50. (Later, he ends up at Harvard. Take that Yale!)

You'll hear more about the story because you'll be hearing more about the movie version that will be released December 25th. It stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette, so it will get attention.

There's a large type 64 page book version of the story and you can read it in several of The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (That collection has 43 stories, but there are at least 160 in the Fitzgerald canon.) However, you can read the story online at and at

This post is not a movie review, but I will say that it's the kind of movie I see as a hit or bomb. It's not something I would have invested in, but I'll go see it anyway.

I think F. Scott Fitzgerald may have been the first author to have a character who could live backwards in real time which offers some interesting possibilities. I think the idea could sustain a novel. It's possible that Fitzgerald might have written this, as he did with many other stories, as a way to pay the bills in 1922. The premise allows him to address aging and how it is viewed by society, but especially how it affects family, relationships and marriages.

A movie from a short story means that some things that are "suggested" in the story will be expanded on the screen. Probably, there will also be some things in the film that have no connection to the story. I'm okay with that. You don't have much of a choice as a filmmaker in that situation unless you're making a short film.

My own favorite Fitzgerald is still The Great Gatsby which I think is a "perfect" novel. In that classic, one of my my favorite lines is at the end:

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

The quote appears on Fitzgerald's grave and it inspired a song by Eric Carmen and it keeps coming back to me as I age in an un-Buttonish way into the future.

(Film Trailer)

1 comment:

  1. The special effects used to age Pitt are quite remarkable. At times, it is his CGI head on other bodies.