If you’re looking for this summer’s most action-packed blockbuster, then you should not see The Fault in Our Stars. But if you’re looking for a movie with a little more depth than just superheroes, explosions, and gunfire, then you should get to the theater now. And based on the box office numbers, you won’t be alone. Warning: Bring an entire box of tissues. (I made the mistake of leaving mine at home and was left with the back of my hand.)
The film adaptation of John Green’s famous novel follows 16-year-old Hazel Grace, who suffers from cancer that makes breathing difficult. She carries around an oxygen tank and must wear a tube around her face everywhere she goes. Though reluctant, she attends a weekly support group, and while there, meets Augustus Waters and his friend Isaac, who both have cancer as well: Gus had his leg amputated and Isaac will go completely blind soon. Through a series of events (romantic picnics, phone calls in the middle of the night, and a trip to Amsterdam on the tab of Make-a-Wish), Gus and Hazel fall in love, despite Hazel’s cynical view of her life and her impending death. Mortality is an ever-present subject on the minds of the characters in the film. It rears its ugly head in heartbreaking scenes that depict the outright panic of facing a life-or-death situation.
Altogether, the movie stayed true to the book’s major themes. The scarcity of outside characters that affect Gus and Hazel’s relationship, like Gus’ ex-girlfriend who resembled Hazel and died of a brain tumor, and the euphemistic treatment of suffering by characters — which was graphically described in the book — are minor changes that barely detract from the emotional intensity of the movie. Details like Hazel’s loose jeans, Gus’ awkward body movements because of his leg, and the pathetic swing set that Hazel’s father built for her enhanced the movie’s closeness to the book. The most important symbol in the movie that was also a huge part of the book was Gus’ cigarettes, which he carried around as a metaphor for power.
On the surface, the strongest and most apparent themes are (obviously) living with cancer and the inevitability of death. With regard to mortality’s certainty, Hazel, upon Gus’ confession at the support group that he fears oblivion and being forgotten, rebuts with cynicism: “If the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.” She also very frequently uses the phrase “when I die” and corrects people when they say, “if you die,” or something of the like. However, as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that death is not the hardest part of dealing with cancer, but living after cancer has taken a loved one.
Throughout the movie, characters are concerned with their problems and their limited amount of days left to live, but the difficulty of life after someone’s death takes priority over their own suffering. The passing of a major character leaves the rest of the cast to deal with the effects. It becomes evident that Hazel and the rest of the characters are most concerned for those around them — not themselves — because of their cancer. Like Hazel says after giving a eulogy, “Funerals, I had decided, are for the living.”
In an era where Millennials are often portrayed as self-absorbed or as the “Me Me Me” generation, the depiction of teenage characters concerned with the well-being of others after their deaths gives them depth and intensifies the gravity of their situations. The characters are so mature that their own pain comes second to the suffering of those around them. And despite the fact that the subject of death is avoided in normal conversation, the movie and its characters’ lives revolve around it. Instead of fearing death, Green’s characters embrace it and see it as just another event that is part of the timeline of existence. In their profound acceptance of death and selflessness in worrying about others, the characters in the movie freely flirt with a taboo subject in today’s culture.
The Fault in Our Stars is a movie that makes viewers cherish their lives and their health. It is powerful and gripping, and will cause a few (probably many) tears to fall. It may not be rife with action and explosions, but it will make a lasting impression on anyone who has the pleasure of viewing it.