Let’s consider this a break from a state of Lebanese depression.
The new “it” movie that everyone’s talking about, based on John Green’s novel of the same title, is The Fault In Our Stars. Teenage girls have already lined up in theaters to weep their eyes out, jokes ensued. Others have already dismissed the movie as yet another teenage drama they will not bother with.
And here I am to tell you that “The Fault in Our Stars” is something worth giving a shot to. No, it’s not because it’s an epic love story that transcends time and place as movie or novel tag lines tend to say, but because it’s such a simple story in itself, told in a remarkably real way, that it can’t not resonate with you.
Popular culture has always found a way to turn cancer into a simple matter that entails losing one’s hair, vomiting in a bucket because of the chemo and ending up unscathed at the end. The truth of things, however, is anything but.
As someone whose mother battled the disease and survived, I know how it is to see someone get weakened by those treatments, seeing them waste in front of you because of the drugs saving their lives. As a medical professional, I know how it is to deliver cancer diagnosis to people. I know how it is to see children in front of you wearing a Superman cape as they exit their chemo sessions. It’s not Hollywood, it’s real life that happens every day right next to your workplaces and homes, in locations you don’t give a second look at.
“The Fault in Our Stars” gets cancer. It may not employ the most precise of medical jargon all the time, but its portrayal of cancer is one that I wouldn’t feel horrified reading. It tells the story of the disease the way it is. There’s no sensationalization, no glamorization, no poetic justice. It’s not full of errors, cliches and whatnot. It shows cancer the way it is: a disease that ruins lives, leaves people impaired and takes away loved ones. But a disease that doesn’t put life on pause.
The might of “The Fault in Our Stars” is in how it communicates the topic of cancer in the way that it does. Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are not the cliche Hollywood fiction power couple going about their days as they await to be cancer free. They are not a saccharine representation of thyroid cancer or osteosarcoma. They are not people who just exist with cancer. The cancer stories of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are as real as a story of a relative you’d tell to a friend over coffee. This authenticity when it comes to the disease at hand is unparalleled. I’ve personally never seen it in fiction before. And it’s heart-warming to read.
It’s easy to dismiss “The Fault In Our Stars” as another cliche love story aimed at hormonal teenage girls and their pockets. Sure, marketing the movie and book as an out of the box love story is the surest way to ensure profitability, get girls and their tear ducts functioning in hyper-drive, but the story in itself isn’t just about love. It’s the story of two people who might as well have been patients at the hospital I’m working at and who could have been battling osteosarcoma or thyroid cancer.
The book also deals with the issue of teenage sex in a way that is so casual and yet so intimate at the same time. It tackles sex as it is: a reality. That’s a rare thing to read or watch currently, in a culture of either over-sexualization or lock it away and don’t talk about it. The book finds the middle ground between the two extremes and handles it exceedingly well.
“The Fault in Our Stars” is not a perfect book. Given the mania around it, it’s also beyond easy to dismiss it as a current fad that will fade away when the mania subsides, and perhaps it will. But as it currently stands, regardless of young love, death and getting susceptible people to weep uncontrollably, “The Fault In Our Stars” deals with old themes in a very new way. You may look at it as sick people in love, rendering it meaningless and silly. Or you can look at it as the lives of people who happen to be sick. I chose the latter because those lives are so realistically written they could easily jump off that page.
“The Fault In Our Stars” is not an easy read or an easy movie to watch. It may seem contrary to popular belief to believe so, but I – for one – had dismissed it straight out of the bat a few months ago when I first started hearing about it. I was very glad I gave that book a shot. It’s not a literary masterpiece but its topics are crucial for discussion. It’s the closest you’ll ever get, hopefully, to see such diseases in their most realistic forms. Such things exist. Be part of them, even if in fiction.
I’ll be reviewing the movie later this afternoon.