OK, spoiler alert. If you plan to see the movie, don’t read this blog.
Last night I went to see The Fault in our Stars, the story of two young adults who fall in love – oh, and they both have cancer. Based on the book by John Green,the main character in the story, Hazel, was actually inspired by a young cancer patient named Esther Grace who died of metastatic thyroid cancer in 2010 shortly after turning 16. Esther’s own book of writing, This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl, is now available on Amazon.
But I digress, more about Esther Grace later.
Green’s book has become a young adult classic due to its love story, which is hard to resist. And for those young adults who have cancer, there are many reactions I am sure they can identify with, such as Hazel trying to understand what will happen to those around her after she dies while valiantly trying to protect the ones she loves while living.
At a support group of young adults with cancer, Hazel meets Augustus, who has lost his leg to sarcoma but not his zest for life. Hazel introduces Augustus to a novel by a reclusive author named Peter Van Houten who lives in Amsterdam. We don’t learn much about the book except that it’s about a girl with cancer and it ends in midsentence, leaving many loose ends.
It’s the loose ends and the unanswered questions that obsess Hazel, who is sure that learning what happens after the end of the of the book will help her understand her own life and death. Because Augustus still has his “wish” (the one given to all critically ill children), he cashes it in to take Hazel and her mom to Amsterdam to meet the mysterious author. What Hazel and Augustus get instead of the answers about the book, is a huge dose of reality from Van Houten, a self-centered drunk who offers them nothing but a look at what remains of a man eaten by grief. Hazel and Augustus leave abruptly when it’s clear they won’t even get common courtesy.
In trying to make amends, his assistant offers some sightseeing, and the first stop is the Ann Frank house. It was in the attic of this house, now a museum, that a young Ann Frank hid with her family from the Nazis during World War II. As Hazel struggles up the stairs to the tiny attic, we hear some of Frank’s diary read aloud.
For me it was a highlight of the movie, because in Frank’s words and the knowledge of her death in a concentration camp comes the ultimate truth that people die — often too young and for reasons that no one understands. Death is a part of life, but what we do while alive is up to us.
From there on the movie becomes predictable. It turns out Augustus has a recurrence of his cancer and is dying. Somewhere along the way they have sex and profess their undying love. He dies. Through it all she tells us how hard it is.
My criticism with this movie as with most other cancer movies is that we do not see the ugliness of the disease. OK, she has to drag oxygen around with her, but she is always pink and healthy looking. People who are that sick with cancer do not look like they are dealing with a bad cold. Cancer destroys the body. In the bedroom scene we see a svelte Hazel when, as one reviewer pointed out, she would have been puffy as a result of steroids.