There’s this one quote in this one book that says, “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
The book that houses this little gem is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green—yes, the same book that has since been turned into a box-office smash hit and taken the weekend by storm to the tune of $48.2 million. I have had that weird evangelical zeal about Fault since I first read it, and now, the world over may indeed have new access to its story in movie theaters. It is an immensely powerful testament to the written word, the power of film, and the stories that deserve to be told.
The Fault in Our Stars centers upon Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old girl living with terminal cancer. When she meets Augustus Waters in her support group, their lives change forever. This, friends, is not a lie, but it is a horrible description. This is the plot but not the story. The story is within these characters that author John Green has borne and director Josh Boone has brought to life. Hazel is a realist, a bit of a fatalist, sassy and cuts to the chase; Gus is optimistic, seeks meaning, elegant and loyal. And they are both dying.
Fault makes us swallow a lot of pretty tough pills like that. Its lead characters are an amputee and a girl with an oxygen tank, there’s a scene with Gus at a gas station that will break any functioning heart, and you will probably cry. Not to mention, book-to-movie transitions can be tough—some scenes were cut, some dialogue was shifted, and it’s hard for off-screen narration to keep up with Hazel’s quick wit.
But that’s the thing with Fault, the movie: it brought Fault, a story about death, to life. It doesn’t hide the tough stuff. It’s hard to do this without being corny, or making the tough stuff seem glamorous, but the film does its darndest and reaches a pretty high bar. At the same time, it doesn’t shy away from grand declarations of love complete with champagne and twinkle lights. Death and life, ugly and beautiful, get all crashed up together. This isn’t a film for everyone, and people are bound to find fault in Fault. But the meaning, the significance, and the gut-wrenching emotion of it have moved pretty well from page to screen.
I first read Fault on a plane to California in March of 2012—before I underwent all the transitional phases of high school to college, before cancer got its dirty hands all over my family, before I had ever been inside a hospital room or seen a cannula. I was en route to a school trip with the music program, and reading this on this plane ride felt for a while like I was the only one awake.
The book was a quick read, done within three hours. I laughed out loud, dog-eared pages, and cried without being able to point to the words that cued my tears. When those transitions in my life did start happening, I would read Fault at a slower pace. Hazel and Van Houten’s ideas of infinity came up in my friend’s high-school graduation speech; I understood that “pain demands to be felt” when my grandmother fell sick; as an English major, I began to appreciate phrases like “and I am in love with you” (seriously, if he had said “but I am in love with you,” it totally would have changed the game).
The book became more than the sum of its parts. It became not just a story, but somehow, my story. To see it come to life on screen, with very few significant changes from novel form, was a film experience like none I have ever had before.
People will go into Fault theaters expecting a love story, and they’ll get one. But it’s not just a story about love and it’s not just a story about death. It’s not about defying stereotypes or sugarcoating or happy endings or any endings at all (ahem, An Imperial Affliction). The Fault in Our Stars is an important movie because it is about people, and what they feel and how they act and what they want. We might not hear all of the detail of the written version, but we can look at Hazel Grace with our own eyes and see our sister, girlfriend, someone we love. It is the kind of story that takes on other stories, a small infinity in its own right. And from book to movie to personal connection, it has the power to grow into a larger infinity than ever before.