15 June 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

I did not yet read the book, though someone left the novel lying on the floor by the bedside. The Fault in Our Stars is young adult fiction and so I am certain the reader was one of my young adults. I will now read the book because I want to understand how the experience of the movie differs from the experience of the book though the subject/plot of both must possess great affinities. I was deeply affected by the movie but I suspect for reasons separate from the way my lovely daughters (and even their friends) will see it.
            The film’s protagonists are teens suffering and dying of cancer. I attended an early show on a chilly, cloudy afternoon in mid June, and the sparse audience consisted mostly of young adults. They were very quiet. I wondered how the film they viewed was different than the one I screened. Augustus Waters, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Isaac (no last name given or remembered) suffer from cancer. Isaac has lost one eye to cancer before the film had begun and his other eye must be removed before the film concludes. Issac’s girlfriend cannot bear his pain and she ends their relationship.  Hazel’s cancer is under medical control, but her condition remains seriously volatile and critically affects the quality of her life; and during the film Augustus Waters dies from the cancer that had already taken his leg and that eventually stops his heart. He had been a trophy winning basketball player. He is, of course, adoringly cute, personable and unreservedly witty.
            Certainly, these young adults comprise an unusual assortment of leading characters. From the outset the audience knows that none of them will survive their teen years. A terrible pall hangs over the film. But The Fault in Our Stars is also an odd love story, a rather perverse romantic teen-flick played out on a background of disease and mortality. Augustus and Hazel establish their relationship despite their illness; their relationship allows them to transcend their illness. Finally, though the film must end in death, Augustus and Hazel affirmatively speak the final words of the film: “OK!” And perhaps as sad as the film must appear to the teens and young adults to whom the film is directed, there was triumph at the end in the love that survived death.
            But not for me. To my mind the film represented my ultimate nightmare: the death of a child. Not like Broken Circle Breakdown, a film that also concerned the death of a child but was more about the effect of the death on the relationship of the parents, The Fault in Our Stars was a portrayal of the unnatural imminent (and not immanent) mortality of three beautiful youths in the midst of a life that appeared otherwise without any sense of tragic dimension. And though the three adolescents remained strong and stalwart throughout, there was no attempt to disguise the threat under which each lived, and there was nothing that the adults could do—doctors included—to relieve the condition of the children. The adults were rendered helpless, and I sat in the audience as one of those helpless parents.
            From the film’s beginning it was clear that someone was going to die, but it was also clear that Augustus and Hazel were going to fall in love and that there love was going to not save them but would allow them to overcome the reality of their separate deaths. In the midst of the sufferings they experienced, love triumphed over death.
            But my adult cynicism took no comfort; I was Willem Dafoe, the embittered writer to whom Hazel and Augustus travel to Amsterdam to see, who did not survive the death of his eight year old daughter from cancer. Along with his daughter he had lost his life. I think The Fault in our Stars was two movies: one for young adults and the other for parents. If we both wept, I think it was for different reasons.


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