The Fault in Our Stars is a well-written, superbly-acted film that deals with some of the big questions in life: how does loving someone with a terminal illness affect our own life and theirs, how do we want to be remembered after our deaths, will we be remembered at all, and does it matter one way or the other?
Teenagers Hazel, Gus , and Isaac all have different forms of cancer. Hazel has thyroid cancer that has migrated to her lungs, making her cart an oxygen bottle everywhere. Gus had cancer resulting in the amputation of a lower leg. Isaac has had one eye removed due to a tumour, and will soon lose the other eye. They all meet at a teen cancer support group. Gus declares that he wants to live an extraordinary life and be remembered after he is dead. Hazel thinks this is grandiose nonsense:
“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
A relationship starts to bloom between Hazel and Gus, but Hazel tries to warn Gus off investing too much emotion in her. She anticipates that her death will be like a hand grenade, damaging everyone around her. They swap favourite books, and Gus finds that Hazel’s is about a kid who dies of cancer, and the bookends in mid-sentence. They contact the author, an American living in Amsterdam, and arrange a trip to Holland to meet him. Instead of answering Hazel’s questions about the end of the book, they discover the author is a nasty drunk who kicks them out of his apartment. (They don’t know it just yet, but the author’s book is based on the death of his own daughter from cancer.)
They return to America, where Hazel’s condition worsens, Gus’s cancer returns, Isaac has lost his other eye, and the three write eulogies in preparations for each other’s funerals. For those who haven’t read the book or seen the film, I won’t reveal who dies first, or in what circumstances.
The notion that loving someone exposes us to hurt is not new. There is an old saying that, “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The film puts it a little differently. One character says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.” After watching the film, I thought about how loss is inevitable. I have two kids in their twenties. Both practice sports that carry a risk of death. Perhaps I’d be happier if they did basketball or karate or surfing, or some other fairly harmless activity, but as a parent, I can’t control what my adult kids do. And I can’t spend my life worrying that they might get killed. The possibility of loss is just something we all have to live with. The characters in this film fight over how exactly you face loss. The dialogue is superbly written, and the acting is excellent. If you go to see it, watch the facial expressions of the main characters, and listen carefully to the dialogue. You might want to go see it twice. I did. So, has anybody else seen it, or read the book? What did you think?
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