In August 2005, elderly Daisy Fuller is on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital as Hurricane Katrina approaches. She starts rambling to her daughter, Caroline, about a train station built in 1918 and Mr. Gateau, the best clockmaker in all of the South, who was hired to make a clock for it. Mr. Gateau was blind, and lost his son in World War I, which crushed him, but he continued to labor over his clock. When it was unveiled at the station, the public was surprised to see that the clock ran backwards, to which Mr. Gateau says he made it that way so that the boys they lost in the war could come back again and live their lives that were ended too soon. After that, Mr. Gateau was never seen again, and people speculated he died of a broken heart or went out to sea.
Daisy then asks Caroline to read aloud from the diary of Benjamin Button.
From the reading, it is revealed that on the evening of November 11, 1918, a boy was born with the appearance and physical maladies of an elderly man. The baby’s mother died after giving birth, and the father, Thomas Button, abandons the infant on the porch of a nursing home. Queenie and Mr. “Tizzy” Weathers, workers at the nursing home, find the baby, and Queenie decides to care for him as her own.
Benjamin learns to walk in 1925, after which he uses crutches in place of a wheelchair. On Thanksgiving 1930, Benjamin meets seven-year-old Daisy, whose grandmother lives in the nursing home. He and Daisy become good friends. Later, he accepts work on a tugboat captained by Mike Clark. Benjamin also meets Thomas Button, who does not reveal that he is Benjamin’s father. In Autumn 1936, Benjamin leaves New Orleans for a long-term work engagement with the tugboat crew; Daisy later is accepted into a dance company in New York City under choreographer George Balanchine.