This thing was written in fifty-seven minutes while listening to Olin & The Moon’s “Worst Is On It’s Way” eleven times. There has been no fact checking. If you want fact checking or editing, you have come to the wrong place. Because six pages in fifty-seven minutes allows precious little time for fact checking. Or even snacks.
Gus…..the swing set of tears….Cantor’s proof…..and saving your ten on the comparative pain scale for the correct time. Where to begin? Where to begin.
Turning a great book into a movie generally ends up with an outcome as solid as Coke’s idea to launch a “new” Coke back in the day or the marriage of Tori Spelling to Dean McDermott. There are a few notable exceptions to the rule such as “Fight Club” and “Primal Fear”. I loved “Fight Club” and “Primal Fear” as novels and was deathly afraid the movies would ruin the books. Each movie excelled in its own fashion. These “solid novel to movie” transitions are few and far between. Love stories are the most challenging.
“Fault of Our Stars” was another movie I walked into deathly afraid because I loved John Green’s book. It is an amazeballs novel where you can hear the characters breathe and shift positions as you turn the pages. I read John Green’s novel on a flight from San Francisco to New York City in spring, 2012 and remember pouring eye drops into my eyes nonstop so that the nearby passengers and flight attendants did not think I was having a hysterical nervous breakdown. If you want to cover up crying in a confined space, or any space, use eye drops. Write that down. You are welcome.
The theme of both the movie and the book, like all love stories, is that love stories end poorly. Hazel describes this at the beginning of the movie quite succinctly when she summarizes with three words. “This is real”.
All love stories, short and long, end poorly for someone…..often times both parties. Mr. Hemingway, in “A Farewell to Arms” wrote: “if two people love each other, there can be no happy ending.” Mr. Hemingway was wrong. I have said for years that there is a singular situation in which neither party hurts when a relationship is over…regardless of the life span of the relationship. The situation is this. Both parties go to their favorite restaurant, make out for ten hours, go to their favorite concert and then intentionally do a “Thelma & Louise” into the Grand Canyon, laughing all the way down and expiring at precisely the same moment. The odds of that happening re infinitesimally small. Like, maybe, 1 in 1,908,567,305. I made that number up. It’s still a really, really, really small probability, though. Do your own math. I can’t do EVERYTHING for you.
One day, when I am gone, they will erect statues in my honor, inscribed “Worst Boyfriend Ever”. From 1978 through 1998, I was the worst relationship partner in the universe and any other tangential universes. In 1998, I found an excellent family therapist in 1998 and walked into her office solo. Surprised, she hemmed and hawed for a bit before saying “you know I am a FAMILY therapist, right? And you are a single man.” I explained that while I was, indeed, a single man…..one day down the road I wanted to be the best damn husband in the galaxy and I figured if we started right away, I’d be in the correct position to be precisely that when The Random threw the correct person in my path. She laughed. We began a six-year relationship that has as the fruits of the labor a most excellent journal with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” on the cover…because that was pretty funny. It was funny then and it is funny now. This journal cover. That’s still funny. 16 years later.
One of the first exercises Ellen had me do was to write down all the ideal traits I wanted in a partner and in the ideal relationship. In October, 1998, I took a weekend and went through countless legal tablets, scribbling action verbs, nouns, past participles, and truncated sentences. Out of all those semi lucent and partially coherent thoughts, I generated a list of sixteen items with; of course, one of those items having a subset of ten additional items. Because I like bullets. Below was the list then. It is still the list today. Should you choose to write down your list, your list will not change. Take my word for it. 16 items. I wanted someone with at least 11.
Back then, I never made anyone feel safe.
Last Friday evening, I spent a good seven hours discussing love and life with a table full of friends and shared the finest thing I have ever heard from a woman: “you make me feel safe.” We all talked through the best relationships we had ever been in and the consensus was that when you distill it all down to the very smallest portion….when you throw all the love you ever have had into beakers, put a Bunsen burner under the beakers to burn off everything that is NOT love….the things that are simply attraction or emotion or the three inch deep things, that is what love is. Feeling safe and making the other person feel safe. Gus is a wonderful character because without asking once “what can I do to make you feel safe”, he made Hazel feel safe as naturally as if he was blinking or breathing.
Gus was the rock star character in the book and the movie. Rock. Star. And one of the finest literary (and now movie) examples of the Cherokee parable about the two wolves. This Cherokee parable…….here is a refresher for those of you who have been out of Cherokee parable school for a long time.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” Gus fed the correct wolf.
By feeding the correct wolf, he made Hazel feel safe. That was damn cool.
Gus says “apparently the world is not a wish factory” towards the end of the film. Like Mr. Hemingway, Gus was wrong. In 48 years, I have had a single experience with a 16/16 person. As I watched “Fault in Our Stars” this evening, I thought of her and while I was able to spend more than a single day with my 16/16 person………my living, walking, laughing proof of Cantor’s first proof of the uncountability of the real numbers………..my own experience with there being an infinite number of numbers between zero and one………I would have accepted just one day.
Even if I had only a single day with that 16/16 person back then….that would have been an extremely worthwhile day. A most excellent day. Because 16/16 is rare. I’m eternally grateful to having that 16/16 time because I was able to identify closely with the truncated, movie version of Gus’s beautiful eulogy when it was read aloud this evening at the Fashion Valley cinemamoviesuperplex. I could have said the same thing about my 16/16.
“What else? She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.”
Back to Gus.
As good as that movie was, that truncated version of the full eulogy Augustus wrote for Hazel did not do the book version justice. Here is the full version. And man, oh, man is that one of the finest love letters ever written. If you are not going to grab the book and choose to simply see the movie, take a read. That’s love. That is one hell of a letter.
Begin amazing letter……….
I’m a good person but a shitty writer. You’re a shitty person but a good writer. We’d make a good team. I don’t want to ask you any favors, but if you have time—and from what I saw, you have plenty—I was wondering if you could write a eulogy for Hazel. I’ve got notes and everything, but if you could just make it into a coherent whole or whatever? Or even just tell me what I should say differently.
Here’s the thing about Hazel: Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease.
I want to leave a mark.
But Van Houten, the marks humans leave are too often scars. You build a hideous mini mall or start a coup or try to become a rock star and you think, “They’ll remember me now,” but (a) they don’t remember you, and (b) all you leave behind are more scars. Your coup becomes a dictatorship. Your min mall becomes a lesion.
(Okay, maybe I’m not such a shitty writer. But I can’t pull my ideas together, Van Houten. My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.)
We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths. I can’t stop pissing on fire hydrants. I know it’s silly and useless—epically useless in my current state—but I am an animal like any other.
Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.
People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad, Van Houten. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: ‘First, do no harm.’
The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.
After my PET scan lit up, I snuck into the ICU and saw her while she was unconscious. I just walked in behind a nurse with a badge and I got to sit next to her for like ten minutes before I got caught. I really thought she was going to die before I could tell her that I was going
to die, too. It was brutal: the incessant mechanized haranguing of intensive care. She had this dark cancer water dripping out of her chest. Eyes closed. Intubated. But her hand was still her hand, still warm and the nails painted this almost black dark blue and I just held her hand and tried to imagine the world without us and for about one second I was a good enough person to hope she died so she would never know that I was going, too. But then I wanted more time so we could fall in love. I got my wish, I suppose. I left my scar.
A nurse guy came in and told me I had to leave, that visitors weren’t allowed, and I asked if she was doing okay, and the guy said, “She’s still taking on water.” A desert blessing, an ocean curse.
What else? She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is
funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.”
End amazing love letter(s). Good night and I hope each of you get at least a single day with your own personal 16/16. Because that will be a damn good day.
Three thumbs up.
This is the end of the movie review.