The Fault in Our Stars

Movie Review: “The Fault in our Stars”

I remember a time when I, as a socially awkward teenager, started to emerge from the shell of my shyness, rebel against my parents, had the most crazy and yet fun times with my high school peers, and engage in a multitude of activities in my school so as to slowly gain a place and status in the social setting of my school. Viewing these in hindsight after being in a university for two and a half years, I miss those times, those awkward times where we pursue for relationships relentlessly, where we have the most carefree times of our lives, where our body image concerns us the most, where our hormonal fluctuations induce us sometimes into perma-rage towards our family members and friends. Being a teenager is fun, it is exciting, it is filled with exploration towards the unknown, and if developmental psychologist Erik Erikson is right, it is a time where we find our true identities.
But then, I remember my cousin. A cousin who was barely two months younger than me has been diagnosed with cancer. A diabolical disease that slowly consumes my living cousin into a lifeless corpse. It was painful to watch, it was devastating. To slowly look at a person, previously so full with life, filled with endless possibilities, who was so curious about the future, slowly decay and immobilized and ultimately confined to a bed was as horrible an event one can possibly imagine. One can only deal with so much despair until one starts to question the futility of life if suffering is such an inevitable circumstance in our meager lives. But he was an optimistic fellow, his family embraced Christianity, and together they endured the suffering through the guidance of the words of Christ, of the pastor, and of God. And in the end, he passed away, after years of suffering, into a state of eternal slumber. He died.
There is a disparity here that was irreconcilable. Two individuals of the same age, filled with equal possibilities, faced different fates. Their roads diverged. His was a cruel road, and although I do not wish to travel the road that he did, I do wish sincerely to have accompanied him farther down, to watch him grow, to watch him fly. Instead, he lies in a coffin, and I’m here typing. The scar he left behind is barely visible now that many years have passed since his death, but it is a scar that I am willing to take on for the rest of my life.
“The Fault in our Stars” (which was a film adapted from John Green’s book with the same title) proposed an essentially similar story, a story of courage, a story of love, and a story that teaches us that one’s attitude while facing a terminal illness is sometimes all that the patient has in his/her arsenal. But there is a catch, it views this story from the standpoint of the cancer patient itself. In that, the book and the film is ultimately a phenomenological study of how the cancer patient themselves lived through such a harrowing experience.
There cannot be a more obvious contradiction between Hazel, the female protagonist, and Augustus (“Gus” from here on for simplicity), the male protagonist. Hazel is a girl who seemingly has gotten everything in her life straightened out ever since she received her “death sentence” (the diagnosis). She is a realist. She sees death as inevitable, an oblivion that cannot be escaped from. She sees no value in trying to leave a significant trace behind while she is still alive.

Then there is Gus, the charming boy who has a happy-go-lucky attitude towards life even though he survived through a osteosarcoma (bone cancer) attack that robs him of his leg. Unlike Hazel, he is a romanticist. He likes using metaphors to explain everything (they are super pretentious). He held a romantic view on life itself. And although he holds Hazel’s “rationality” and “smartness” in high esteem, I do believe that he is the one that has the most constancy with regards to his outlooks on life. In fact, subconsciously he may be the anchor that held Hazel down, and bring a sense of meaning and purpose to Hazel’s life, which will profoundly change her life from hereon. He is realistically optimistic, in the sense that he realizes his flaws, his vulnerabilities, and his weaknesses, and yet hold on to a cheerful outlook even in the bleakest of times.

 

Yet, despite these seemingly wide set of differences, they actually have much in common. They are non-conformists. They are smart, and they are quirky and seemingly have a different kind of aura that cloaks them, making them appear much more different than any other teenagers. I believe this is inevitable, and they must be different from other people of their age. Because they have battled the demons of disease while others are still pondering whether Nike or Adidas is better; because they have stared the abyss of mortality in the eye while others are hanging out in shopping malls. This is what sets them apart from other kids, and this is what the film wanted to explore.

 

But what intrigues me the most is not what is explicitly shown in front of me on the screen. The importance of this work, the theme of the movie lies not what is being shown or said; rather, it lies behind what is not being said. There is a tension and a subtle flow of emotions that paints, pervades, and underlies each and every scene and dialogue in between the characters. In one scene, we can see Hazel looking at Gus while Gus is looking at the other direction, and lowers her head and avoided Gus shyly when he returns his gaze towards Hazel lovingly. All the delicacy, the tenderness, and the intimacy Hazel held towards Gus (and vice versa) culminates in that one gaze, and although no dialogue is exchanged between the two in that scene, there is nothing else that needs to be said. Take another scene for example, in that scene, Hazel is talking with her parents, and one might start getting suspicious of a certain ambiguity in their conversations. It seems as if they are circumventing around a topic that they are clearly avoiding, namely that of death itself, or more precisely, the fear of death itself.

 

 

There are many other factors that made this movie stand out so much among this years numerous films, namely John Green’s or the director’s smart decision to make the characters unique and memorable while dispensing them from the horrors of cardboard characterizations and cliched teenager stereotypes. The editing is really good, and the soundtrack is pure eargasm to listen to. But one of my favorite reasons (my most biased reason) is that I personally admire Shailene Woodley greatly ever since I saw her previous works in the equally amazing films “The Descendants” and “The Spectacular Now”. “The Spectacular Now”, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” are smart coming-of-age films that depict our adolescent years with clarity and a touch of painful honesty that is tinged in nostalgia. It is these films that dared to break through the swamp of cliche “High School Musical” genre stagnation.

Watch it! It’s worth it!
Watch it!!!!!
Bask in all the glories of Shailene Woodley-ness

I encourage you to go and watch this film, as it is a film that depicts the human life at its most painful and heartbreaking, yet it provides profound hope that even though our mortality is the one fact with which we have to bear with, we can control how we confront it. Everything essentially distills into this one point: we have the choice, and it is up to us to make that choice, since no one else can make it. So whether you face it courageously, despairingly, with or without the support of loved ones, one must remember this:

The fault is never in our stars, it is in us. 🙂

Posted in Movie Review.

Hew studied at HELP (love that school), is a Psych grad, and currently works at a non-consequential job for non-consequential wages. Talk with him about literature or the arts (visual and audio), or just anything related to pop culture and he will spazz with geekish excitement (please talk to him, he is lonely and needs help). He lives in Malaysia.

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