Why I Will Probably Never See Another John Green Movie
**potentially contains spoilers for “The Fault in Our Stars” and other John Green books**
August Waters put a cigarette to his lips and smiled, and the girl next to me cooed in delight, her hands flying to her mouth.
“Yes! Yes, he’s so perfect,” the girl behind me giggled to her friend.
“You are beautiful,” Gus tells a blushing Hazel. “I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence.”
The theatre erupted into squeals and awwwws and a few scattered claps. I turned around and glanced over my shoulder, confused.
Image via Twentieth Century Fox
This is not what I had expected. In all the times I have read “The Fault In Our Stars,” it never once occurred to me that this is the part that was the crowd pleaser. It never occurred to me that it was a love story. Because for me it never has been.
For the average teenager, finding John Green’s books are a monumental life event. They’re funny and deep and you can really connect to them, because they’re close enough to your life to feel comfortable, but far enough away that it’s still enchanting.
But there’s an entire subsection of readers who find very different connections in his books, because for us they aren’t fiction—they’re real. We’ve lost friends, which is why Alaska’s death hits us so hard. We’ve watched loved ones suffer, and it frustrates us to see Gus deteriorate in front of our eyes.
I have lost several friends in my life—to suicide, an unexpected medical condition, a car accident and yes, cancer. At each juncture, when I was acutely feeling the pain of these losses, I have read a John Green book.
“The Fault In Our Stars” has never been my favorite of Green’s works, mostly because I associate it with the pain of loss. I can see myself in Margo Roth Spiegleman’s big dreams and I find comfort in Pudge’s obsession with the Great Perhaps. But I don’t see myself in Hazel and Gus—I see myself in their family members and friends. I can’t find parallels between myself and the protagonists, because when I close my eyes I can only draw parallels to the friends I’ve lost.
Going into the film, I was prepared to hurt. I was prepared to be upset. I was even prepared to be disappointed. But I was none of these things. It was a beautiful adaptation, done perfectly in keeping with the book. It was the truest novel to film pairing I’ve seen in a very long time, and it was a genuinely wonderful movie.
But it didn’t make me feel the way the book did. On the contrary—it made me wish I had never seen it.
It has never been the overarching, sometimes overwrought symbolism or the quirky love story that makes this book important to me. It has always been the small and shockingly painful moments that are too real, the punch in a gut details that hit too close to home. To me, saying that the book is about cancer or calling it a love story diminishes its importance. It’s a book about moments, and the life that comes with them. Cancer and love are just bystanders in Hazel and Gus’s story.
So you can imagine my confusion as I sat in that theatre, stuck for almost two hours with girls simpering over each romantic phrase or gesture, making high pitched noises when Gus and Hazel’s hands touched. These girls were clearly familiar with the book. They knew what was coming.
I should have seen it coming—even the tagline is “One Sick Love Story.”
But how could you read that book and take away the love story as the most important aspect?
To me, TFIOS is about Hazel’s parents telling her it’s okay to let go. It’s Hazel finding the Facebook page of Gus’s ex-girlfriend, and reading through the dozens of messages written by grieving friends. I’ve seen those Facebook pages. I’ve written on those Facebook pages. And I return to them each year, like clockwork, and feel a bit of that initial pain all over.
It’s the soul crushing reality that you don’t get the big death scenes like in movies—you get the phone call in the night. You don’t get closure for the pain, you just get to live with it. It’s about being really, really angry at the cards you get dealt, and taking them anyway. It’s about realizing that you can live a full life even in a limited number of days. It’s about the ripples that we leave in our wake, and how the choices we make affect those ripples.