I’m glad my daughter’s boyfriend is boy enough that he didn’t want to see The Fault in Our Stars with her! That meant I got to! My girls and I had read the book together, and we were curious how close this movie would adhere to John Green’s Young Adult novel by the same name. We weren’t disappointed.
-photo Wiki Images
And, we can be fairly critical customers of story—in any form.
Note: Spoiler Alert! In this and posts to come, I may reveal major plot lines and story themes.
For a guy who claims to not have lived with anyone with a life-threatening illness, author John Green gets into the emotional machinations that define the youth-cancer see-saw pretty well: the grief, denial, anger, angst, humor and grit. Perhaps his work as a junior high teacher and ministerial intern in hospitals gave him in-depth insight into what young people experience at these junctures in their lives.
While much of how the movie unfolds is expected, it contains just the right amount of humor, drama, and real-life cancer images for its target audience: young people. Having grown up in a “cancer-pocket” outside of Niagara Falls and Love Canal, I recall the all-too-familiar improbable pathos of too many young people facing young love and cancer all in the same space of their too-fragile lives.
For me, the movie was a long-overdue catharsis.
While my story differs from the movie, I found myself at one time the object of a young man’s unexpected affections and dying wish to have me as his girlfriend, instead of the acquaintance I thought I was. I was too young and afraid to reciprocate. I just didn’t have those feelings for him. I still feel the flaming ball in my stomach when I think about the note I read where he explained he needed me before he died. So as he lay dying, I ran and hid, and yet by some miracle he survived.
How much more unfair could life be than when youthful desires and death run an unwanted collision course?
We like to say life is unfair. It’s this unfairness, the pathos and the struggle that give rise to story. Story helps those suffering make sense of their suffering and move with it. Not against it. But with it. In the end, story is what lives on for survivors. Story gives life and meaning to the life of those who have passed on in one way and to those who survive in another. In the end, story is all we have—passed on our breath from one to another.
As I thought about my youthful brush with young love, rejection, disappointment–and cancer–I can say—from a critical vantage point—that the movie only touched lightly on the ways in which people don’t live up to your expectations –even when you are dying. As harsh as it got is when Isaac, a secondary character, his girlfriend breaks up with him before he loses his last good eye. Other than this we don’t experience any major human-to-human disappointments among the main characters.
The biggest intimate disappointment that arises is perhaps when Hazel reveals in a voice over, in the weeks before Augustus dies, something to the effect of:
“I wish I could say that Augusts was brave to the end… or kept it together till the end, but he didn’t.”
But perhaps these almost flawless characters were in themselves part of the relief from the looming imperfection and tragedy of loss in the face of cancer. For me, while I did not run away from a boyfriend with cancer, I ran away from the opportunity to comfort someone who was very ill. Through Hazel Grace and Augustus, I got to vicariously experience what it would be like if I’d made a different decision. I hope the once ill young man who called for me in his hour of need also has found a story like The Fault in Our Stars that’s given him catharsis for the suffering he survived.
-Image by Djembayz, via Wikimedia Commons
As my daughter and I left the movie together with a pile of wadded up tissues, she said, “Mom let’s go before the lights come up.” As we tiptoed through the darkness, the credits rolled, the music played, and the screen stayed filled with stars as sniffles still filled the theater. And no one but us dared move from the safety of darkness.
In the end, Hazel Grace and Augustus impart so many heart-felt lessons that young people can bring to their lives. And, hopefully never have to use.
What have you learned about yourself by watching a movie? What books and movies have you shared with family?