The ‘Real’ Benjamin Button

In the original version of Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, as in his book, Benjamin is born not as an old and wrinkled tiny baby, but as an actual old man, with beard and all. And he could speak too. But the key element of his reverse ageing remains intact in both stories. The whole story is quite significantly different from the movie adaptation. With some whimsical quality and what seems to be serious messages embedded, Fitzgerald still considers it one of the funniest stories ever written! Like any good story, it highlights human foibles, through only one single unique premise though.

Born an ‘old soul’, Ben faces discrimination right from the start, in terms of expectations of how a newborn is supposed to look like, think and behave. Even his father pointlessly insists that he plays with a rattler. He is forced to play childish games with other kids despite the awkwardness of it all, sticking out like a sore thumb.  This is an interesting inverse and extreme take on ageism. Most of the time, we slight the old for being too slow in their ways, but here, Ben is simply too mature for kiddy ways. Do you look and behave your age? Do you discriminate others who don’t? Are you ahead or behind of ‘your time’?

The social tension is not so much because of Ben simply being who he is, albeit a ‘freaky’ case, but due to discrimination itself. As Ben approaches middle age, the discrimination naturally lessens, as he looks more and more ‘appropriate’. But as he crosses middle age, and realises that he is becoming increasingly youthful, he starts to relish in being young, exuberant and attractive. Like all of us, he hoped that he could freeze the ‘ageing’ process in the prime of his life, but the river of time flows on. Death is still eventual.

Also not unlike many of us who assumed we would be forever young, he became complacent at one point. Despite having been a victim of ageist discrimination for half a lifetime, he nevertheless unmindfully begin to discriminate his wife. Though once young and beautiful, she became less and less so due to the ravages of time. Feeling less and less well-matched with her, he had forgotten that he too once looked too old (45), when he first married her (at 25), and that she didn’t despise him then. Ben the victim becomes the victimiser. An uncanny symmetry it is, when she becomes 45 and Ben looks 25 in turn!

Related Article:

The Buddhism of Benjamin Button

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