The Curious Case


They’re here–the 81st annual Oscar nominations that is.  Leading the pack this year is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which harvested 13 nominations.   One of those is  “Best Adapted Screenplay,” a category of considerable interest to the golem as so many of the issues in cinematic adaptation overlap with issues facing poetic translation.

As everyone must know by now, the narrative follows the life of a child who is born into the body of an old man and subsequently ages in reverse, the soul aging and inhabiting an ever younger body.   The voice Pitt creates for his character, as well as the voice over, is extremely effective at transmitting corporeal dissonance.  (IMHO, Pitt is really really really good at conceiving and executing character voices in his roles…)

What makes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a truly curious case is the relationship between the film and the  short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald it is based on.  We’re all used to pronouncements on film adaptations such as: “the book was better.”  This is not a reliable assumption for judging adaptations, and that’s amply evident in this case.

I found the screenplay flawed in a number of ways (e.g.,  too protracted; an ineffective double frame for the narrative…).  However, the screenplay is far richer than the original–the switch from Fitzegarld’s third-person omnicscient narration to the film’s first-person narrator (Pitt’s voiceover) is decisive.

A better criterion for assessing adaptations and translations: is the result  “faithful” to the original?  In this case, I would suggest it is.  The story is largely a finger exercise for Fitzgerald built around the conceit of reverse aging except for the fact that he attempts to take the story airborne for the ending.  (He succeeds, in my opinion.)  The screenwriters seemed to recognize that element in the source text  and translated that more or less directly  into the film,  much to their credit.

Let us know what you think!


~ by matt on 23 January 2009.

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Natalie E. Illum...

is a poet, performer and disability activist. Bring her stumbling to your city.

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