“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book” ~John Green from The Fault In Our Stars
(This piece contains some spoilers)
I was itching for a new read. Browsing through the bookstore one lazy Sunday afternoon, my eyes fell upon The Abundance of Katherine’s. Having dated at least a dozen Toms/Tims over the course of my life I was intrigued. I asked the clerk about the author, “Any Good?”
He suggested I start with Looking For Alaska, a fan favorite. I bought both. Admittedly, I was initially hesitant to read Young Adult Fiction having long since eclipsed that time of my life. To my surprise and delight I fell in love.
John’s characters are funny. They’re bright and angry and dark. They are raw and quirky and real. (Admittedly with my own added personal quirk, a dark sense of humor, and like Hazel a propensity to keep things real). Loving fantasy and romance as well as the next person but knowing the truth.
It has been said he writes teenager characters “wise beyond their years”. Perhaps this is what I like. He doesn’t write down to teens. Instead he celebrates teen intellectualism “where you’re reaching keeps exceeding your grasp just a little bit”. There John taps into the foundation of a world on the brink of exploding, a supernova birth and journey’s beginning, exploring the questions that interest us, and tapping into the part in all of us striving to find ourselves in this world.
But much like John’s college professor (P.F Kluge) said “You may be smart, but I’ve been smart longer.” The adult in me knew this too and this acknowledgement I felt while reading. But even I did not know the impact The Fault In Our Stars would have on me personally.
This novel of kids with terminal illnesses- all about love, life and full of philosophy found its way into my lap not by happenstance or kismet but I think fate. I spent the days following my recovery from kidney cancer surgery reading it, immersing myself into grieving and healing, love and hope. The endless possibilities of youth, young love colliding with the reality of the fragile nature of life. In my own grief I found an intoxicating brew.
Two weeks ago I was lucky to attend a preview screening at the Seattle International Film Festival. As always I am glad I read the novel first. I prefer an author’s interpretation to color my assessment of any movie. Not the other way around.
The Green Brothers say “If your goal is real connection, never pretend to be something you aren’t. You have to be authentic with your audience.” Thankfully the movie does the novel justice by hewing closely to the text.
The casting was superb. Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters, Nat Wolff as Patrick, Willem Dafoe as Peter Van Houten, Laura Dern as Mrs. Lancaster, and Sam Trammell as Mr. Lancaster just to name a few.
Clever incorporation of texting and smart decisions in adherence to the novel’s themes and tone honored the characters and the world John created. And seriously you have to love a heroine who wears a cannula throughout the entire movie. Let’s talk about what real beauty is. Gus knew. Staring at Hazel he proclaimed, “Because you are beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence.”
In the midst of a movie about the gruesome reality of cancer and loss we find love. Two teens meeting at a cancer support group, Gus with his prosthetic leg and Hazel with her oxygen tank are anything but a conventional pair. But their acerbic wit, disdain for the conventional and love will sweep you away. This movie is the terrific mix of wit and emotionalism without becoming a mockery.
Now, I can’t call myself a “Nerdfighter”, not yet. But I understand their complaint that the movie was overly focused on the love story. It is good to know that Gus had a love before Hazel. It adds a dimension to his character and the lesson’s he had learned through her grueling death. And though I understand the impulse to remove it from the movie it also lessons the effect of Hazel wanting to fight love and Gus’ unwillingness to let her. “I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?” Gus rebuking, “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.”
As I said I was glad I’d read the book first as many of the deeper philosophical themes, so compelling in the book, were eliminated. Such as how sometimes the marks we leave on the world are scars. Admittedly, this is a difficult thing to convey on the big screen. So again I understand the choice.
And yes small tweaks were made in the language, replacing “self-aggrandizing” with “cocky” or the fact that Hazel is a vegetarian. And like its predecessor the movie “is unsentimental and brutal in its depiction of illness”. But unlike the book you are spared much of its brutality on screen.
I fully understand the direction and cinematic choices the writers Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber and director Josh Boone took in the film adaption bar one. Why the Limo?
Seriously, why? A nod to Pretty Woman perhaps or Say anything, yes and removing the hint of the upcoming turn of events understandable. But I am torn by the cinematic choice. Perhaps this is where my age betrays me and a younger audience might appreciate the addition. Even I loved the boombox scene in Say Anything- that iconic moment that sums up the heart. This was not THAT moment in the story, or the movie, so for me it was detraction.
Theirs is a relationship between two vulnerable, fragile and beautiful human beings. It is bittersweet, heart wrenching and uplifting. A movie not so much about dying but the tragic business of being alive that compels. What do we need to truly be happy? How can we know we have left our mark on this world? Our indelible ink scribbled in the hearts of others.
As Gus said Oblivion was his greatest fear. Hazel reminding him oblivion is inevitable so he better come to terms with it along with the rest of us. Which he does and so declares “I’m in love with you. I am. I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
This movie will make even the skeptical grown-up teary. Trust me I was handing out tissues, even to the grown man sitting next to me. Due for release on June 6th I highly recommend you bring some with you when you go see it.
In the end you feel so much bigger than the world in which we live. Even a short life can be a good life, a full life. So I too am reminded to love fully, laugh lots and live each moment authentically.
This book will break your heart by filling it up till it bursts and so too it seems will the movie. Make sure to go and see it. But of course I’d say be sure to read the book first.
“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
~William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet