Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Double review: The Fault in Our Stars

Within the space of one week, I began reading John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, saw the movie with my daughter and her friends, and finished the book. I think anyone who has been paying attention realizes that the story is a tearjerker about two teenage cancer patients who fall in love. Having experienced the story in two different mediums in such a short time, I can attest that the movie is about as faithful to the book as movies get, though there are minor deviations. Both are so well done, expressing the angst of young people confronting death with honesty and irreverence as they struggle with the unfairness of cancer while taking advantage of the time they have left. The teens I went to the movie with loved it, though only the girl who hadn't read the book yet needed tissues.

The basic question of TFIOS is: what happens after? To each of us after death and to the ones we leave behind. Hazel and Gus read a novel about a cancer victim that leaves what happens after? dangling threads that bother them so much Gus uses a foundation's Wish to grant them a trip to Amsterdam to get answers from the novel's author. The problem is, they don't get the answers because death doesn't offer quick and easy answers. We can only speculate and try to have faith in whatever belief will sustain us so we can find peace. The two characters have different beliefs regarding what happens after. For Hazel, it's oblivion, although she has doubts about that, and for Gus, it's not necessarily the stereotypical heaven, but  a "Something with a capital S." Hazel is driven by concerns about how her parents will go on after the death of their only child, and Gus feels compelled to do something that matters, that will last beyond him. The lack of control that either of them has over getting these needs fulfilled is an awful reality they both have to learn to deal with, but Gus's fear of oblivion is present from their first encounter and permeates their relationship through to the bittersweet ending.

There are some positive messages here, though everyone may view them through whatever color glasses they happen to wear. This book isn't written for believers, though I hope the young (and not so young) people reading this book/watching the movie are fortunate enough to have a faith that helps them cope more easily with the tough issues TFIOS addresses. For those with faith and a strong sense of what constitutes the afterlife, Hazel and Gus may be viewed with compassion and pity for their uncertainty. For those who believe oblivion is the afterlife, I suppose enjoying every moment here should be precious. For those who are unsure, the book conveys a bittersweet reality: we can't be certain about the afterlife and we aren't guaranteed to live on in the memories of others, but we can choose to live and love in each moment we have here anyway, and the risks we take in doing so create meaning to sustain us.

Four and a half stars to both the movie and the book.

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