Having three little kids, I often don’t get out much. It usually means that I am terribly behind when it comes to the movie scene. The exceptions being, of course, kid films, and, since I have the coolest friend with the coolest job, occasional movie screenings with the illustrious Christa Banister.
Last week was a red letter week when it comes to me and the movie theater. I went to two movies in one week. The first was “Malificient” which I saw with my family, and the second was a screening for “Fault in our Stars.”
“Malificient” was good, but not great. Though Jolie was certainly a fabulous Mailificient–she lent the evil queen hidden depths– the plot line of the greedy humans and the fickle and increasingly disturbed King Philip was predictable and sadly unredemptive. There was room for something special, a new understanding, forgiveness, the reality of love itself–not the absence of hurt, but forgiveness in the face of it–but, par usual, Hollywood just can’t seem to quite see it through and, instead, we have an entertaining, but shallow remix borrowing from the greatness of those who have gone before. The one change that is notable was the change made to true love’s kiss, which, instead of coming in the form of a prince that Aurora had known for all of five minutes, instead comes from Malificient, her “fairy god mother”/mentor. Without that change, I fear the movie would have been nothing but a colossal disappointment.
But, I digress. My real purpose in writing this blog is to address “Fault in Our Stars.” I had read the book. I’ve had two years of fourteen year old girls telling me I absolutely HAD to read the book–that it was the best book ever. I have to admit, I dragged my heels. It’s not that I didn’t believe them that the book would be something special, but, well, it hits awful close to home for me. As anyone who has walked through an experience like John Greene’s Hazel (main character from the book) can tell you, there are days you can talk about it, and there are days you can’t. In the same way, I knew that I would have to wait for the right day to read the book–or I would be a total mess. So, I waited for a year and a half before I had the courage to read it, and though I wept, I loved it. John Greene wrote with an authenticity, a rawness, that I found freeing. Yes, I wept. I thought of my beautiful daughter and that horrific journey, but somehow, it felt like the shedding of a skin, not like diving into the great abyss of my memory. He didn’t sugar coat the reality–he let the cynicism, the pain, and the bitterness stand as it was, and for one who has lived it, it was so gratifying to not have to pretend for the space of the few moments between the pages of that book.
Why am I talking about the book, when it is the movie I am supposed to be addressing? Well, it perhaps lends a little context as to why I thought I could handle the movie. When my friend asked me to go to the screening with her, I didn’t hesitate. I knew what I was getting myself into. I could handle it. After all, I had read the book and survived.
I had already had a tough day that particular day, so I was already at a disadvantage, but, that aside, I think my reaction would have been much the same. As Christa and I chatted waiting for the film to start, I watched the theater fill up with broken humanity. There were kids in wheel chairs, people without limbs, ventilators . . . and there was a feeling in the air that this was for them. This was a nod in their direction, that we see your pain, we see–we understand. It was more than just a movie.
I felt guilty somehow, to be sitting their whole and healthy, and yet, the irony was that I am not whole or healthy. I look it. I’m sure the walking wounded looked at me and thought that I was sitting there untouched. Perhaps some shot a bitter look or thought in my direction. But, the reality is, though my limbs are intact and my lungs breathe without help, I am”Hazel’s” mother. I stared that reality in the face, I walked through it, and though physically I came out on the other side, psychologically and emotionally, there is no “wholeness” after a child’s death. There is only a heart with a permanent crater, patched together with the force of will and desperation. The truth is, you are left with only the “before” and “after.” Before the pain, and after it, when you try to pretend that you aren’t permanently damaged from the nightmare that became your life.
I looked around the room and I couldn’t help but wonder how many others, like me, looked to be whole and there simply for a night’s entertainment, but were instead getting ready to take a journey back into their own personal pain. This movie meant something–for those of us who have lived in that darkness–it was something much more important that a movie. It was our past–our present–our future.
And then it began. I was sucked into a vortex, back into my own personal nightmare. Reading the book, though difficult, could not compare to seeing it. The imagery, those sterile halls of the hospital, Hazel’s oxygen tank, her bypap machine . . . all came straight from the halls of my memory. Mom and dad holding hands in a board room while the doctors talk to them about the fate of their child–mom, running terrified into her daughter’s room in the middle of the night fearing that she will not be able to save her, that she will be too late–mom, dealing with the agony that she will not be a mother anymore . . . these are all pages directly from the story of my past and I was not prepared to re-enter that nightmare. No sane person would be.
The movie was great from a movie standpoint. The actors did a brilliant job, especially Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters. The dialogue was true to Greene and brilliant, but, if this kind of journey is your own kind of journey, beware. There are times that taking a stroll down memory lane is a lovely, bitter sweet experience, but this walk down memory lane has nothing of sweetness about it. In truth, it is not even bitterness, it is sheer pain.
For those of you untouched, go, enjoy the glimpse of the very real pain some of us have had to walk. Glimpse that nightmare and thank the God in heaven that it is not your story.
For those touched by terminal illness, a life and death struggle, or death itself, enjoy the book and its brutal irony, but spare yourself the pain of the movie. Some things should just not be revisited. It’s too real. It’s too raw–and it just plain hurts.