When Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) looks up at the stars, she doesn’t see the promise of God as Abraham did. As a 16-year-old dying of cancer who doesn’t believe in heaven, she sees an impersonal universe headed toward oblivion. Yet, living inside that bleak canvas, struggling with depression and “side effects of dying” such as lungs that barely work, she meets a boy named Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). Her relationship with Gus wakes her up to joy and the possibility that his love could make her life “OK” in the best sense of the word.
Like John Green’s 2012 novel, the PG-13 film version of The Fault in Our Stars displays powerful storytelling. Part of the reason is well-acted characters who are every bit as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet. Add to that the sympathetic portrayal of families struggling to cope with cancer, and you’ll start to see why the story resonates with both teens and adults. In terms of their love and self-sacrifice, Hazel’s parents are some of the most positive role models in a YA film.
But it’s that moral vision, along with artistic excellence, that makes the rest of the film so hard to swallow. Although John Green claims to be a Christian (at least in his vote-for-Obama essay), the movie is peppered with profanity and crass humor. Most offensive is a running joke about the “literal heart of Jesus.” In a story about teenagers grappling with death, for a “Christian” author to make the name of Jesus nothing more than a running gag—it’s simply unconscionable.
Furthermore, Hazel and Gus find their answers to life’s big questions in a hotel bedroom. Without God’s defining love, they glory in premarital sex and worship at the feet of our culture’s most deceptive idol: human love.
Despite acclaim the movie is likely to receive, The Fault in Our Stars isn’t “OK” for teens in any sense of the word. Mature viewers, however, may find its faults a perfect opening for the gospel.
Listen to Emily Whitten discuss The Fault in Our Stars on The World and Everything in It: