Sometimes, in our culture, people choose to avoid relationships out of fear of rejection or pain. One newly released movie, The Fault in Our Stars, an adaptation of the book by John Green, poignantly reminds us that the joy and love that people bring us is well worth the pain.
(Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the movie yet.)
The Fault in Our Stars is about Hazel, a 17-year-old with stage four cancer, and Gus, an 18-year-old amputee in remission. They meet and fall in love. At first, it seems like it is going to be a typical teenage love story. When it becomes clear that death will take one of them too soon, the movie becomes so much more.
“The Fault in Our Stars cares quite a bit [about the] meaning of life and death and love and suffering in a universe sliding toward oblivion and whether there is Something beyond giving some larger context to our existence, choices and experiences,” says Steven Greydanus in his review for the National Catholic Register.
Greydanus is right. Both the book and the movie deal with profound questions about the meaning of life and the existence of life after death, but it is when showing the impact that we have on those around us that The Fault in Our Stars is at its best.
When I sat in the movie theater with tears rolling down my cheeks, it wasn’t because a beloved character had died. It was because the movie accurately showed loss. Although Hazel was in pain, never once did she wish she had never known Gus or regret that she let him into her heart. Yes, she felt a deeper pain at his passing than she probably would’ve felt in her entire life if she hadn’t loved him, but she also experienced more joy.
This evoked strong feelings from me. It called up how much I missed my grandparents—who both died of cancer in the past three years—and it reminded me how glad I was that I was able to experience a close bond with them. As Gus says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.”
If more people chose to love regardless of the cost, I think we would be a happier culture. Too often, we choose to hold ourselves back from new friendships, relationship, or unknown experiences. We also fall into the trap of taking people already in our lives for granted. As the film reminds us, life is short and the people in our lives are a privilege—a gift from God. We must cherish them before it’s too late.
The need to accept the inevitability of suffering is rooted in Catholic teaching. In his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, St. John Paul the Great says, “Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the ‘why’ of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.” In other words, love and suffering are intertwined. We cannot suffer without love and we cannot love without suffering; the degree to which we love dictates the degree to which we suffer.
As Catholics, we should realize that it is folly to desire love without suffering, or avoid love for the fear of suffering. When He died on the cross, Christ clearly showed their relationship and showed their unmeasurable value. In that same apostolic letter, St. John Paul II discusses how suffering brings out the best in people: “We could say that suffering … is present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one’s “I” on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer.” This sentiment is echoed in the novel, where at Gus’s funeral, one character tells Hazel, “Grief does not change you …. [I]t reveals you.”
This is especially true for Hazel, who spends the first half of the book pushing Gus away because she feels that loving her is too dangerous and will only hurt him. It is only when Hazel experiences the pain she was trying to shelter Gus from that she stops thinking about herself. As Gus succumbs to his cancer, you hear Hazel complain less about her pain and see her become a rock for Gus. It is in suffering that Hazel develops into a full person, who is not defined by her cancer.
The Fault in Our Stars is a morally flawed movie, but it still manages to reveal powerful truths about human relationships and the role of suffering in our lives. The filmmakers masterfully conveying terrible the pain of loss. In watching this movie, I was reminded that—although we feel isolated in our sorrow—we are not alone, and that those feelings of grief are more than worth it because of the love that inspired them.