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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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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Just as my children become members of my family when I bring them into the world, so too our baptism incorporates us into the family of the Church. This supernatural membership prevents us from being orphans who have to fend for themselves in the spiritual wilderness.

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