3 Stars — Thought-provoking
Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share a common wisdom and passion about life and love. Both also become hopelessly in love with one another while each battles the raw reality of death due to cancer staring them in the face. This love story, The Fault in Our Stars, is today's version of the ultimate Romeo and Juliet teen romance — a shared passion that is shaped by tragedy.
Performed beautifully by Shailene Woodley (Hazel) and Ansel Elgort (Gus), there is a chemistry here that is rare in any film, let alone one staring actual teen actors. Hazel is fatalistic, and Gus is idealistic.
Haunted by the inevitable sense of death's likelihood within the next few years, Hazel fears showing her feelings since she doesn't want to be hurt and doesn't want to hurt others. Gus stares death in the face every day and refuses to let it control his life. He is the ultimate optimist.
While we follow Hazel's family closer than Gus's, there is a realism on every level — from the fear and pain that their parents carry, to the awkwardness of friends who don't know what to say. Gus and Hazel have met in a cancer support group at the local Episcopal Church, and even the strain of facing death is awkward in the midst of a place of spiritual transcendence and faith. Hazel doesn't know what to think about life after death, and Gus is confident that there is more to life than this mortal plane.
One thing that bonds them together it is their love of books, and one book in particular. They often wonder what the writer must have been thinking when he expresses the experiences of a fictional character that faces death, and their fantasy is that they could go to Europe where the writer lives and ask him some deep questions about life and death.
Without giving away the story, a series of actions lead to their being able to take a trip together to fulfill their literary desire and to share a conversation with the author. Needless to say, the trip does not end up being a fulfilling experience in terms of their expectation, but it is instrumental in creating a truly bonding love between Hazel and Gus. This becomes the greatest moment in their short lives.
In the end, death must be faced, tears shed, and questions about why there is injustice and pain in this world have to be raised. There are no easy answers, but Gus becomes a role model for showing how death cannot defeat life, and can indeed transform it into something remarkably beautiful.
This book written by John Green had already sold millions of copies before it was made into a film. In this case, the film is equal to the book and in some respects bypasses it with its depth of acting and passion. It is the love story film of this generation, restating in modern terms that "love never means having to say you are sorry."
» The inevitability of death is often pushed aside until illness forces it into the center of our lives. How have you dealt with your own mortality? Do you believe there is life beyond life? On what basis do you make that claim?
» The positive attitude of Gus allows Hazel to experience life before death. How have the attitudes of others impacted you and your ability to truly live embrace others with love?
» The promise of the Christian faith is that this world is only a kindergarten experience preparing us for ultimate life. How is your life now preparing you for more to come?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.