It’s been two years since The Fault in our Stars hit theaters. Coincidentally, it’s taken me two years to sit down and watch this romantic drama. My logic: Why invest two hours of your time in a film about cancer and teen romance? Don’t those two subjects right there scream tragedy and death? The Fault in our Stars brought a few tears to my friend’s typically unemotional-dry-movie-watching eyes, so I said, “Why not? Let’s give this a go.”
Having not read any of John Green’s novels, I was unsure of what to expect. The plot’s structure is clearly book based. There’s exposition of a dying girl who has accepted her fate. Hazel Grace Lancaster simply exists for her parents’ sake. She follows her doctors’ orders. She entertains herself by watching Top Model and re-reading her favorite book. From scenes, we can see that she wishes she had more of a social life, but it’s clear she is content with her life as it is.
Her parents force her to attend a support group, which is where the rising actions and crises begin. Hazel meets Augustus “Gus” Waters; despite some resistance on Hazel’s part, romance occurs. During this love story, there’s also a journey to meet Hazel’s favorite author, Van Houten. Unfortunately, health problems interfere and then so does Van Houten’s bigotry. Another subplot includes Hazel’s parents and how they’re coping with their daughter’s terminal illness. All this leads to a climax, revelation, and denouement.
Overall, I found the movie compelling and quite organized, but it was the symbolism and metaphors that captured my attention. It seems that the characters’ metaphors and a few of their scenes paralleled their situation well and provided depth to the overall story.
“They don’t kill you unless you light them. And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing. A metaphor.” –Augustus
Gus explains this to Hazel when he sticks an unlit cigarette in his mouth. This metaphor is introduced early in the movie, but pops up throughout the story. The message is straightforward: cancer. You can be dying of it, but you don’t let the diagnosis ruin your happiness.
Gus’s optimistic attitude compliments Hazel’s cynic view of life. Hazel allow her terminal cancer to define her, whereas Gus recognizes cancer as simply an illness and not a part of his self/personality. As Gus helps Hazel focus more on her life and less on her approaching death, we can see Hazel pick a cigarette from Gus’s lips and put them between her own. Yes, this is mostly likely the two simply flirting, but it’s also a show of how Hazel is changing. One could argue that when Hazel explains the metaphor to the flight attendant, at that point, Hazel has fully realized that her cancer does not define her life.
A contrast between Hazel and Gus’s personalities is also made during the scene where Gus suggests they read each other’s favorite books.
Hazel’s favorite book is “An Imperial Affliction” by Peter Van Houten because the author understands what it means to be dying without having died yet. In fact, Hazel explains to Gus that the ending is abrupt and unfinished because that’s life—you leave this world in the middle of a sentence. Hazel is aware that she can die and leave her family behind at any moment. How her life, and the loss of it, impacts those around her is important to Hazel.
Gus, on the other hand, sticks a book in Hazel’s face during the book swapping scene and says, “Okay, I will read this horrible book with its very boring title that does not include zombies or stormtroopers. And in exchange… You will read this. This haunting yet brilliant novelization of my favorite video game… It’s about honor and sacrifice and bravery and heroism. It’s about embracing your destiny and leaving a mark on the world.” Gus is also concerned about how his life impacts others. His focus, however, is on how he can be remembered by making the biggest difference in multiple people’s lives. Gus is a dreamer just as Hazel is a philosopher.
Life After Death
Hazel and Gus’s concerns gradually grow more apparent as the plot moves forward. While hanging out, Hazel tells Gus, “I’m like a grenade. At some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties.” Hazel is obsessed with how her family and friends are going to handle her death, which explains why in the beginning of the movie, she was closed off and didn’t want to attempt to make friends.
Gus has the opposite approach to death. His obsession over influencing multiple people’s lives stems from his fear that he will not be remembered after his death. Death is scary, and as we find out toward the end, Gus’s cancer returns. He wishes he could meet death fearlessly like one of his video game heroes, but that is not the case. Even Hazel’s voice over admits Gus was scared in the end.
On a more romantic note, Hazel does try to persuade Gus to think differently about his time on earth:
Hazel: “You know, this obsession you have, with being remembered?”
Augustus: “Don’t get mad.
Hazel: “I am mad! I’m mad because I think you’re special. And isn’t that enough? You think that the only way to lead a meaningful life, is for everyone to remember you. For everyone to love you! Guess what, Gus – this is your life! This is all you get! You get me, and you get your family and you get this world, and that’s it! And if that’s not enough for you, then I’m sorry, but its not nothing. Because I love you. And I’m going to remember you.”
In the end, this movie was a compelling watch because of the serious issues and how they were handled. Instead of being flippant, the metaphors and symbolism were used to bring life into the story. The character’s confident attitudes helped too. I’m not sure what to make of the title, The Fault in our Stars, but I do believe the notion that some infinities are larger than other infinities does tie in well with the movie as a whole.
“I’m not a mathematician, but I do know this: There are infinite numbers between zero and one. There’s point one, point one two, point one one two, and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger set of infinite numbers between zero and two or between zero and a million. Some infinities are simply bigger than other infinities. A writer that we used to like taught us that. You know, I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, do I want more days for Augustus Waters than what he got. But Gus, my love, I can not tell you how thankful I am, for our little infinity. You gave me a forever, within the numbered days. And for that I am… I am eternally grateful.” –Hazel
This notion that sometimes even infinities cannot ever touch partnered with Hazel’s and Gus’s mortality ends the movie on a bittersweet note. Hazel and Gus admitted that they were star-crossed lovers, and even though they both knew they were going to die sooner rather than later, everything in their lives and in their family and friends’ lives would be… OK.