As many of my Instagram followers would know, (and yes for the record I am aware that my Instagram “sucks”) I just had one of the unholiest sunburns of all time. It was so bad, in fact, that I had to walk around my apartment naked 24/7 because my starchy t-shirts and Target bundle boxer shorts felt like sandpaper against my skin. But that’s a story for another time.
How did I let myself get burned so bad? By taking advantage of the summer weather and reading “The Fault in Our Stars” under the blazing sun for 3 hours. And if you’re an Irish person you know that it’s possible to get a third degree burn just by thinking about going outside during the summer. But anyways-I decided to read “TFIOS” on a whim. It was sitting on my little sister’s desk and I had nothing better to do. And despite finding Shailene Woodley to be slightly insufferable, I figured I’d see the movie at some point and therefore should read the book in advance. Now let me start by saying that I have yet to see the film but that I am thrilled it has gotten such good reviews and that audiences seem to identify with Hazel and the other characters. But with that being said…
I enjoyed TFIOS because I thought it was well written. The characters, in my opinion, were well fleshed out and John Green did a good job in avoiding sentimentalizing cancer or making the subject matter tacky or cheesy. It didn’t present things bleakly or emotionally manipulate- it tried to tell a fictional, but all too realistic story, honestly. I will also admit that I liked the love story between the two characters. I wanted them to end up together and due to tragic circumstances they do not have that happy ever after. But that’s realistic- because life only ends in death. There’s no such thing as a “happy ending” and while movies try to sell the idea that it does exist, we should all know better.
I’m tired about how much media attention this film has gotten. I find the endless Buzzfeed posts about “12 Times You Were A Puddle of Tears During TFIOS” and “DIY Ideas Based on TFIOS” to be tasteless. I get the film is sad. But I don’t like how people trivialize certain subjects, like cancer, to fit their mood. It’s one thing to go see a melodramatic tragedy and cry from the sheer emotional manipulation of it all. It’s another to go see a film about something like osteosarcoma solely because you want to cry. Cancer is a reality for many people in this world and the idea that people go to see a film about it just to feel some sort of “therapeutic release” is disturbing to me.
I have lost family members to cancer, but I won’t say that its existence is something I deal with on a daily basis. Not like some people. And I understand that some people could respond strongly to this film because of life experience. But what about the people who have never witnessed the destructive force of cancer? Why are they crying? Why are you going to see a movie solely because you are going to cry? It’s my opinion that if the only reason you recommend this movie to someone is because “it made you cry”, that you completely misunderstood the film. And while this is a love story, for sure, it’s a movie about coping with what you have been dealt with in life. It’s about embracing the opportunities you have, while saying to yourself “It’s okay for me to have my bad days and it’s okay for me to be disappointed/depressed/angry”. I sincerely hope that those who watch the film open their eyes to the entire reality of the situation. That they don’t just think of Augustus as some tragic hunk, but as a teenager who ended his life very different than he started it.
In the book, Augustus’ cancer takes a toll on him physically, emotionally and spiritually. He sleeps almost all the time, vomits most of his meals and even wets the bed. He tries to remain positive in his final days but it’s clear that he’s terrified of dying. He’s only 17 and no 17 should have to die. I know that the film doesn’t focus on his decline as much. And maybe that’s because the filmmakers didn’t want to portray Augustus as anything less than hunky. It’s as if cancer is only suitable for presentation if you leave out all of the parts that make people squirm. And while it may make people uneasy, it’s a disservice to those who suffer from cancer (in my opinion) to have their reality ignored to make a profit.
When I first decided to read this book, it was mostly so I could be caught up on pop culture and know what people were talking about. I feel differently after reading it however, and my hope is that people remember that what happens in this film isn’t fiction for all. And I think people need to realize that it’s okay to pass up one opportunity for making something about themselves. If you cry while watching the movie, I say that’s great. That means the film resonated with you. But please don’t make a status about it to show people how great you are for being able to display emotion. Acknowledge that this film isn’t your reality and that it’s insensitive to turn a cancer story into a girl’s night. We may be young, but we have the opportunity to be dignified and respect that what other people go through in life isn’t some form of entertainment.