Saturday, June 7, 2014

Feature Friday: The Fault In Our Stars

You how sometimes there is a movie that you are so excited for that you are actually terrified to go see it? This was that movie for me. All too often movies, especially movies based on books, fall short of expectations. I love the book so dearly and I am a huge fan of John Green both as an author and as a person, so while I was of course excited for the movie, I was also very nervous. This movie was going to be huge one way or another, and I so desperately wanted it to be great.

Having seen it, I can confidently say that TFIOS is undoubtedly the best book to movie adaptation I have ever seen. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort portray Hazel and Augustus more beautifully than I think any of us could have hoped, the script is loyal to the book, and the feels are all too real. There was not a dry eye in the theater. The end credits rolled to the sounds of applause and stifled sobbing.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the story (which seems impossible to me but I've been told they exist), The Fault in Our Stars is based on the best selling YA novel of the same title written by John Green. It follows the star-crossed romance of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, two teenage cancer patients who meet at a cancer support group. Their's is a bittersweet story of love in the face of inevitable loss.

Hazel is wicked smart with a sharp wit to match, but her experiences have made her a bit cynical. She is hesitant about her and Augustus' budding relationship, believing that because she knows she is going to die from her disease someday it is her job to keep anyone else from getting too close to her and thus getting hurt when she dies. Augustus Waters is hilarious and adorable, albeit a tad (or a lot) pretentious. More than anything else, Augustus fears oblivious; he is determined, one might even say desperate, to do something big and "important" with his life, and he fears not being able to make his mark on the world. 

What makes TFIOS so special is that although grief and fear and death are all major elements of the story, it is not about any of those things. At it's very essence, it is a story about life, about living despite all the grief and the fear, despite knowing your death will come too soon. It is a tragic story that manages to leave you feeling hopeful, which is no easy feat. TFIOS reminds us that the meaningfulness of a life is not determined by the number of days we live, but how we spend the days we are given and who we spend them with, a lesson that Hazel and Augustus simultaneously learn from each other throughout their relationship.

The Fault In Our Stars is unapologetically real. It does not shy away from the tragedy it portrays, but neither does it allow the grief and sadness to outweigh the love and happiness. Hazel's days with Augustus are numbered from the beginning, she knows it and so do we, but that does not stop them from loving each other deeply and fully. Their happiness and grief go hand-in-hand, but no matter how great the pain or the loss neither of them would take it back for anything; they felt privileged to love and be loved by each other, however long or short their time together would turn out to be. I think Hazel says it best when she tells Augustus:

"Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful."
Another aspect of the story that I think makes TFIOS really special, and really important, is that it is not a story about cancer patients; it is a story about teenagers who have cancer. I think there is an important distinction. Hazel's cancer is a huge part of her life, made obvious by the oxygen tank she is forced to carry around with her everywhere she goes, but it is still only one part of her life, only one piece of her identity. She is also, for example, a teenage girl falling in love for the first time. Her illness does not define her or her relationship with Augustus.

The story does a great job of deconstructing this harmful tendency society has to reduce sick people to their illnesses. In the book Hazel reads a tribute to a girl who'd recently died of cancer and says:
"[she] seemed to be mostly a professional sick person, like me, which made me worry that when I died they’d have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I’d ever done was Have Cancer."
Hazel does not want to be remembered as a girl who fought bravely against her disease. She wants to be remembered as Hazel Grace Lancaster. She is more than her disease and it is repeatedly mentioned throughout her narration of the book how frustrating it is that other people find it so difficult to see her as anything other than a cancer patient.

I honestly cannot recommend this book or its movie enough. It is incredibly rare that a story has so powerful an impact on its audience as this one does. The Fault In Our Stars is a knife that cuts you open and creates a wound that refuses to close, a wound that you will then willingly and repeatedly dump salt into by re-reading the book, going to see the movie 5 times, and scrolling for hours through the #TFIOS tag on Tumblr. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and hilarious and so unbearably real that you can never return to who you were before you experienced it. And you are glad.
"That's the thing about pain; it demands to be felt."


  1. I couldn't agree more... :)

  2. Great feature!! Definitely the best book to movie adaptation.


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