Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley star in a scene from the movie "The Fault in Our Stars." (CNS photo/Fox)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: (4 Reels out of 5)
The Fault in Our Stars is
a difficult, painful story about cancer-stricken teenagers; it is also
one of the most beautiful films ever made about romantic love. It has
the courage to approach the frequently troddenyet nearly always
disappointinggenre of “Young Adult” (YA) romance with surprisingly
youthful vigor considering its deep subject matter (and without Mandy
Moore or sparkling vampires). What a treat! It’s rare to see a film turn
almost every expectation on its head in such thrilling fashion.
simply, this is a tale of true love, a love forged in the crucible of
pain, suffering, and devotion. While it is lacking in addressing
spiritual questions, it is profound in its approach to human
Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley)
is an average sixteen year-old girl who likes books and thinks her
parents are embarrassing. But she also has cancer, which requires her to
carry around extra oxygen wherever she goes. Her mother forces her to
go to an unreasonably lame Christian cancer support group where she
meets Gus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a likeable dreamboat whose recent and
successful battle with cancer left him without one leg but in possession
of a fresh, exciting perspective on life.
Hazel is obsessed with a serious, dark novel titled, An Imperial Affliction,
written by a recluse Salinger-esque Dutch author, which is about a
similar cancer patient and which ends, maddeningly, in mid-sentence. Gus
manages to contact the author and uses his “cancer wish” to take Hazel
to Amsterdam to meet him. While mutual attraction is felt immediately,
the romance grows slowly, allowing the struggles of time to test their
love and make it stronger.
The first of Buddha's Four Noble Truths is “life is suffering.” An Imperial Affliction
develops this theme with the frequently quoted line: “pain demands to
be felt.” Death demands attention; it destroys our expectations and
forces us (or should force us) to consider only the most important
things of existence, the permanent things. The film pulls no punches in
showing the spiritual, emotional, and psychological devastation of being
deathly ill when you should be playing high school basketball and
eating Blizzards at Dairy Queen.
The Fault in Our Stars
can be seen as a theodicy of sorts, not as reconciliation between a
loving God and an unjust world but how to find love and meaning amid so
much pain and suffering.
Hazel and Gus find this meaning through
learning how to love another person. This love isn’t the silly
infatuation that plagues so many films, but the love demonstrated in
Catholic wedding vows: “I promised to be true to you in good times and
in bad, in sickness and in health.” Pain is inevitable, and sometimes it
even comes from your spouse. Hazel and Gus deal with their problems
courageously but often make mistakes and even hurt one another in the
process. Finally, they learn that love always entails pain because it
entails sacrifice, giving up what you need for the needs of another.
That’s an extremely important Christian principle that I hope young
adults (as well as older adults!) will learn from this film.
The Fault in Our Stars
would be a timeless masterpiece if not for two glaring flaws.
Throughout the whole film, director Josh Boone and screenwriters Scott
Neustadter and Michael Weber revel in making a teen romance that breaks
joyously out of the conventions of the genre. The protagonists are
attractive but have physical faults; the parents are well-developed and
encourage the romance. Not every character gets a happy ending although
every character is important and every situation morally conclusive.
Suddenly, for one brief moment, the film descends into mediocrity. Hazel
and Gus have the obligatory sex scene complete with PG-13 partial
nudity. It stands out like a sore thumb, not just because the characters
are fornicating but because they are conforming to the notions of what
society expected when they had been blazing their own trail the entire
The second fault is the refusal to engage spiritual
questions in a meaningful way. Even the most hardened atheist has to at
least contemplate the divine in the face of death, but for all the
Christian imagery in the film, it is never a serious question. The idea
of the divine is mentioned briefly but inconsistently. At one point, Gus
mentions that death is oblivion but in another scene states that he
firmly believes in the afterlife. The Episcopal church that Hazel and
Gus attend (the religion of original novelist John Green) is
well-intentioned but extremely out of touch with their problems. Worse
of all, Hazel says, “Funerals are for the living, not the dead.” Maybe
secular funerals, but Christian funerals are not just eulogies. They are
a chance to bring the dead to God through prayer.
brought many things into this world, one of the worst of which is seeing
a child die painfully well before her time. Life is unfair, and we deal
with the consequences of a sin we did not personally commit, including
natural evil. God doesn’t offer a way out of our suffering but does
offer a way to make suffering meaningful and ultimately salvific through
Jesus Christ. Romantic love, properly understood through the sacrament
of marriage, brings salvation because it teaches the family how to love
like Christ loves.
There is a scene early in the film where the
cancer support group meets on a rug made in the image of the Sacred
Heart. “We are literally in the heart of Jesus,” the counselor tells
them. Hazel and Gus find this image a little silly and maybe
sacrilegious, but they do find the heart of Jesus in the hearts of each
other. What a beautiful film.