As soon as the trailers for this film started appearing, and I learned it was an adaptation of a hugely popular and successful book, I wanted to read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Quirky, moving and often very funny, it’s one of those books that really does make you laugh one moment and the next reduces you to tears. Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters meet and fall in love, “the way you fall asleep: slowly then all at once.” This is the story of their whirlwind romance. Whirlwind because both are teenagers whose lives to date have been shaped almost entirely by the fact that they have cancer. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is above all about them wanting to be more than their illnesses. About wanting to be remembered for more than dying young. And about the precious joy of living in the moment.
It’s the exact opposite of the cross stitched versions of “inspirational” quotes and platitudes, which adorn Augustus’ parents home and are ridiculed by the pair as prosaic and banal.
This could so easily be an insufferably sweet tale, but Green has created characters that strenuously resist typecasting as brave and saintly cancer sufferers. They deride the notion of nobly battling their diseases and instead rail against the raw deal they have been dealt by the universe. At the same time, both avoid being consumed by anger or bitterness thanks to their ability to laugh at, rather than pity, themselves. Perhaps it all works so well because these characters would be interesting and credible with or without their cancer. Like all other teenagers they are fighting for independence, to be in control and to get a moment away from their parents so the rampaging hormones can get a look in. They are at times pretentious, at times refreshingly honest. They are simultaneously wise beyond their years, immature, hopelessly scared, naive, prescient and fearless. Just like most 16 -18 year olds. And yet there’s always that extra dimension – they are not like other teenagers.
This manifests itself in lots of different ways but I was especially struck by how mindful it makes them of their parents’ existence as separate entities from their offspring, of the impact that their cancer is having and of the fact that their parents’ pain will not end with their children’s deaths. Neither want to be the cause of so much suffering and Hazel Grace in particular worries about what her parents will do when she dies. Will they stay together, how will they pass the time, what will they talk about? Her quest to track down the Dutch author of her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction, leads to a particularly poignant realisation that adds to the power of this aspect of the book.
It’s pretty powerful all round and I hope the film retains some of the depth of meaning and the darkness that lurk between the pages of the book. Because in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are trying to make sense of something that’s senseless, to find meaning in something that’s meaningless. And what elevates their story, and makes it very special, is that they are more than aware of the futility of what they are doing, yet choose to do it anyway. Because whether you are fated to die at 16, 60 or 106, that’s what life essentially is – it’s the living it that counts, much more than that which you might never find.