Tonight was movie night! In keeping with my desire to not shy away from movies that tug at my heart and provoke my tear ducts, I selected a film I wanted to see, but would have avoided before this year. I’ve missed so many sad movies during my life. I’ve yet to have a “keep a box of tissues nearby” movie marathon, but I’ve stopped shying away from my emotions. I’m glad. I don’t want to miss any more great movies.
The Fault in Our Stars features Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell and Willem Dafoe. It was directed by Josh Boone and is based on the novel by the same name, written by John Green. This drama romance is rated PG-13, for the theme, brief sexuality and minor strong language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 6 minutes.
Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) are teenagers who have fallen in love for the first time. Yet they are anything but typical teenagers. Hazel’s constant companion is an oxygen bottle, while Gus walks with a slight limp, due to a prosthetic leg. And they met at a cancer support group for youth. Their journeys have sharpened their wit and given them a stark perspective on life. Although both have been in treatment and are currently stable, they know, with a solemn certainty beyond their tender years, that their days are numbered.
Hazel shares her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, with Gus. The main character, Anna, has leukemia and the story ends, mid-sentence, when Anna dies. Hazel and Gus want closure to the story, needing to know what happened to the other characters in the novel, and embark on an adventure to Amsterdam, to meet the reclusive author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe). Although the alcoholic writer is rude and cryptic in his responses to the teens, the trip ignites the love building between Gus and Hazel. In the midst of their blossoming romance, Gus reveals that his cancer has returned.
Although they could wallow in self pity and rail against the unfairness of life, Gus and Hazel instead live all the days that are given to them. Hazel, who is the narrator of the tale, says they didn’t always hang onto their courage and humor, but for the most part, the young adults lived with grace and dignity and purpose. Hazel, for much of her young life, felt a responsibility to remain alive for her parents’ sake (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell). She feels a sense of release when she realizes her mom and dad will feel pain at her loss, but they will live with that pain, much as she has lived with the pain of her cancer.
This was a well done, powerful movie. Shailene and Ansel, who starred together in the movie Divergent, perform wonderfully, playing old souls living short but significant lives. Gus, when asked during the support group to share his fears, says he wants to live an extraordinary life and not slip into oblivion. He wants to be remembered. As his life proves, sometimes embracing the life we are given creates the extraordinary. And being remembered by a few, or even one, is enough. He and Hazel found a way to create a forever, in a limited number of days. He is grateful. She is grateful. I watch a film like this that questions the fairness of life and realize again that life is what it is and by accepting what is, I allow freedom and peace to flow to me, through me. Whether our lives are numbered in days or months or years….many years or a few… we are given that gift of life. We live it. We cherish it. We are grateful to share it and enjoy it.
The film opens with Hazel saying, “I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories.” I was struck by that. I rewound and replayed that segment several times and let the words sink in. I have not wanted to hear sad stories. I have been afraid of sad stories because of the emotional upheaval they brought into my life. I have a choice as well about whether to receive sad stories. They can undo me, emotionally, without unraveling the fabric of who I am. I choose to hear. And be impacted by them. Gus says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world. But you do have some say in who hurts you.” Like him, and Hazel, I am okay with that.