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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Fault in Our Stars

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service


Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley star in a scene from the movie "The Fault in Our Stars."
Only the cynical would refer to the cancer-themed teen drama "The Fault in Our Stars" (Fox) as a five-hankie romance.

But even that wouldn't be a bad thing in itself. Good cries are cathartic. And true love in the face of untimely death never fails to inspire.

Though sexuality and language put this screen version of John Green's 2012 novel on the adult side of the ledger, it may be acceptable for the most mature adolescents.

Director Josh Boone's lush adaptation—scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber—keeps all the beloved aphorisms found in its source material. Yet its overall effect is more clouded and ambiguous.

Still, in Shailene Woodley's performance of heroine Hazel Grace Lancaster, we're presented with one of the most appealingly literate and sensible teen girls to appear on the screen in some time.

Hazel and Augustus "Gus" Waters (Ansel Elgort) meet at a cancer support group in Indianapolis. She has thyroid cancer that's spread to her lungs, making her dependent on a portable oxygen tank. He's in remission from bone cancer, to which he's lost a leg.

The group—which meets at an Episcopal church—is led, somewhat ineffectually, by Patrick (Mike Birbiglia). He's divorced, sings Christian folk songs and, for some unexplained reason, brings along a large "Heart of Jesus" rug he wove himself.

This dubious artifact doesn't seem to faze the teens, though, and Hazel and Augustus quickly bond over her favorite novel, "An Imperial Affliction," the fictionalized story of a cancer patient named Anna.

This being a romance, Gus tracks down the book's author, Amsterdam resident Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), so Hazel can write to him and inquire about Anna's literary fate.

Gus also arranges for a charitable foundation to fly Hazel, her mother, Frannie (Laura Dern), and himself to the Dutch capital to meet Van Houten. The author turns out to be an abusive drunk who refuses to answer Hazel's questions.

At one point, he hisses, "You are a failed experiment in mutation!"

From then on, the film is a rumination on the harsh reality of dying. Religious faith gets only oblique mentions. Gus believes in an afterlife; Hazel is unsure.

Their first kiss, shared in—of all places—the attic of the Anne Frank House would seem, on the face of it, like the worst possible example of inappropriate behavior. But here, the two have learned what real misery is. The verbal abuse of a bitter author sinks into insignificance by comparison.

As portrayed by Elgort, Gus comes off as an amiable narcissist. "I intend to live an extraordinary life. To be remembered," he tells Hazel. She replies, "Oblivion's inevitable. If that scares you, I suggest you ignore it. Because that's what everyone else does."

This plot line reaches its apogee in the "pre-funeral" Gus stages in which Hazel and friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) read eulogies they've composed. The scene also serves as the audience's dividing line.

Those who love the novel will gush appreciatively. Others may be tempted to bellow, "Life-threatening illness or not, get over yourself!"

The film contains implied premarital sexual activity and fleeting crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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