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The Fault in Our Stars

This powerful film about two cancer-stricken teenagers teaches us a lesson on love, life and the acceptance of death.

 By Joel Tan

Love and romance is often hard to depict on screen with the nuance and depth of real-life relationships. So when a film is able to do so with enough finesse and subtlety to receive critical praise and recognition, it makes us sit up and take notice.

Such was the case for The Fault in Our Stars.

The movie features Hazel Grace Lancaster, an American teenager who’s sarcastic, sceptical and depressed. She also has thyroid cancer. She attends a support group for teenaged cancer patients and one day meets the confident Augustus Waters (Gus), who once suffered from bone cancer.

They find a connection and soon become good friends. As their friendship grows, Hazel recommends a novel she’s obsessed with, titled An Imperial Affliction. Gus doesn’t like the book, which is about a cancer-stricken girl. He feels the ending is too abrupt and unsatisfying.

Because Hazel is obsessed with the novel’s ending, Gus engineers an elaborate trip to Amsterdam for both him and Hazel to look for the author, Peter van Houten. Although they’re unsuccessful in learning more about the book, Gus takes the opportunity to confess his love for Hazel. It’s also where he drops a major bombshell: His cancer has struck back! On their return to the US, his condition deteriorates rapidly.

Still, Gus finds the energy to organise a pre-funeral, during which Hazel declares her love for him and announces that their short time together has nonetheless meant the world to her. At his funeral, Hazel receives a posthumous note from Gus, sending his love and his acceptance of death.

Bollywood revival

This bittersweet romantic film from 2014 is receiving a revival of sorts with a Bollywood remake due to begin production in mid 2018. The fact that this story seeing a comeback four years later is a testament to the universality and timelessness of the story, which was first a novel released in 2012. The book is still available at local bookstores and public libraries.

Why are we still so moved by The Fault in Our Stars?

It may be tragic, but this story also combines a great deal of wit, intelligence and humour, which help us see suffering in a different light – even our darkest chapters offer lessons to make us better, stronger people. The tragic, short-lived romance is also full of the sweetness of an intense teenage love story. But it avoids sappiness because of the difficult, adult struggles Hazel and Gus go through.

Some positive takeaways

1. Never go into anything with pre-conceptions!

Hazel was initially sceptical of her cancer support group, which she found cheesy and pointless. But, like in real life, you never know who you’ll meet. In this case, it was the love of her life. Their sad, beautiful romance began when she accepted his out-of-the-blue invitation to catch a movie that same day. This just goes to show that you should always keep your options open – say “yes” to life, and it may say “yes” back!

2. Everything counts, no matter how short-lived.

Even though they only spent a few months together, their love and romance were not diminished. In her eulogy to Gus, Hazel talked about “larger and smaller infinities”. All relationships – long, short, good or bad – are part of the larger relationship we have with ourselves, and they help us develop. This is the biggest lesson of the film: Every little relationship – even a simple date, even if it doesn’t turn out well – is worth a little something: You’ll learn more about yourself and grow as a person.

3. You have to go all the way for the ones you love.

Gus and Hazel may be a young teenaged couple, but their story has all the markings of a wiser, much older relationship. Seeing how important the ending of the book was for Hazel, Gus went all the way to help her find out what it meant. Knowing what your loved ones need the most and helping them get it is a powerful way to express love. We may not all be able to pull together a trip to Amsterdam, but even little things – such as a well-timed word of encouragement on a bad day – mean a lot.