The movie abandons much of the plot, and significantly changes the characters. In the movie, Benjamin is abandoned by his widowed father and raised by a black family. In the story, Benjamin (who is fully capable of speech) is raised by his father – a man who refuses to accept that his newborn son looks like an old man. He forces Benjamin to attend kindergarten and play with toys that don’t interest him. Their life paths diverge significantly. In the book, he’s a successful businessman – in the movie he kind of drifts around, spending a lot of time at sea.
But the most significant difference, I think, is the romance. In the story, he meets Hildegarde Moncrief, daughter of a Confederate general. They fall in love and get married, with Benjamin appearing to be in his 50s at this point. As he de-ages, he falls out of love with her, and their marriage unceremoniously falls apart. In the movie, he meets Daisy when they are children, and he comes in and out of her life for decades until they meet up again in their early 40s – when they appear to be the same age. As he de-ages, he leaves her to spare her the pain of his not growing old with her.
Throughout the story, I was constantly frustrated that Benjamin couldn’t just pretend to be the age he appeared to be. He tried entering Yale at the appropriate age, but he appeared to be a man in his 50s and was sent away. As an old man in his 50s, he tried to enlist to fight in WWI, but was sent away because he appeared to be 14. He never learned to cope with his physical appearance, nor did he ever seem able to prepare for the confusion and hardship this would cause him.
It’s an interesting concept, but it’s handled so shallowly in the story that I can’t really say I enjoyed it.
Given the option, I recommend skipping the story altogether and just watching the movie. It really is quite good, I thought.