The weight of a simple human emotion
Weighs me down more than the tank ever did.
Don’t give it up just yet;
Stay grand for one more minute.
Star-crossed young lovers in an ill-fated battle with deadly forces. It’s a story that has resonated with a hundreds of generations over dozens of centuries, but is written for this generation particularly, as the best stories must be.
I watched the movie recently and have been thinking about it ever since. That’s what good art does. And this is good art. It is worthy of consideration. But this is not a review of the The Fault in Our Stars itself as much as a critique of the generation for which The Fault in Our Stars was written.
I like it. The story, I mean. And the generation. And I recognise that the movie is different from the book. Having only seen the film adaptation, I can only offer my thoughts on the story as presented in the movie; a fault for which I’m sure I must seek forgiveness.
I experienced the pathos of this story deeply. It took me to the core of me. It forced me to feel the weight of what it means to be me. In short, I revelled in the rich humanity of it all.
John Green, the author of the book, skilfully weaves the story, rich in meaning, humanity, and moment. The metaphors are powerful: The tank, the cigarette, Anne Frank. The richness with which the words are endowed: “Maybe okay will be our always.” “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” Yet such powerful art is far from detached. It walks in the shoes of an unaffected realist protagonist who offers an almost sardonic commentary on the genre of cancer movies throughout.
I offer all of this simply to point out that I liked the movie. The more I think about it, I might even love it. But under all that is a philosophical childishness; an almost self-conscious concerted attempt to build a rational basis for joy in the face of cosmic futility.
The problems are clearly enunciated at various points. The futility of mattering in the vastness of infinity. The meaninglessness of Naturalistic genesis. The felt-necessity of an afterlife. The smallness of human existence.
And an attempt to solve these problems is built around the relative structure of interpersonal relationships. But all the important questions are left largely unexplored. Why does Augustus want to matter? Is there any real meaning? Is there an afterlife? We are star-crossed, but why? And by whom?
Ultimately, The Fault in Our Stars is an elegant acquiescence to futility and meaninglessness. Peter Van Houten is the only character willing to live out his convictions and thereby emerges as the story’s most compelling figure from an objective, “scientific” perspective. Meanwhile the star-crossed lovers grope half-heartedly through the darkness almost convincing themselves that despair is unwarranted.
As I consider the profound issues raised in this story, I sense that we are the hopeless generation. We long for a story that will help us turn our Naturalistic view of the world into something with some meaning. Some hope. Even some beauty. The Fault in Our Stars reflects this desire powerfully. But it offers no real answer.
I don’t want someone to stand up at my funeral and think to themselves “I didn’t believe a word, of course” because “funerals, I’d decided, aren’t for the dead. They’re for the living.” This dichotomy vanishes when life is lived in a reality that has hope and meaning. For the fundamentalist Naturalist, the hideous spectres of reality are too garish to even contemplate. As Hazel Grace puts it: “If the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
For me, the whole point was powerfully summed up on “the last good day” as they go to the park with the skeleton for another picnic. Hazel Grace ends up getting angry at Augustus.
You think the only way to live a meaningful life is for everyone to love you, for everyone to remember you. Well guess what, Gus, this is your life. This is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. And if that’s not enough, well I’m sorry, but it’s not nothing. Cause I’ll remember you, I’ll love you—
And I just wish… I just wish you’d be happy with that.
This sums up the solution, the point of the book, as I understand it. And I find it sadly unsatisfying. As does Augustus. Even Hazel Grace sees it as not nothing, but hardly enough to be everything. Yet it is all she has to offer. Imagine offering yourself up as enough. Enough meaning. Enough mattering…
A world without God is a world without meaning; a world without hope. When I come to die, may they be able to stand with eyes wide open and say what they will. And may they offer what matters more than my life or any life. God is better. Better than us. Better than our few short years here. Better than loving and being loved here. Better than all that this world has to offer. Below is a prayer for our generation with whom this story resonates so profoundly.
Thank you, Father, that we are not condemned to live like this. Thank you for being, and in being, giving ultimate purpose and meaning to everything. Thank you that in you we have a basis for real and rational joy. That our joy is of a sort to stand unscathed in the face of cancer and even death. Because you do. Thank you for turning death into a door to you! To whom be glory. Always. Amen.
God gives meaning to everything. Whatever the fault in our stars, we know the one who made the stars and controls all things. Therefore we have joy. Lasting, tenacious joy in the God who is better.
Grace to you.