While The Fault in our Stars explores the infinities of time and life, there were infinite ways in which the novel itself could be adapted for the screen.
As one of this year’s most highly anticipated cinema releases, the adaptation of John Green’s novel (released in 2012), brings with it three different types of audiences: those who read the book and were aware of the film ahead of its release, those who hadn’t read the book but knew of it and went to see the film anyway, and lastly those who had no idea that the film was an adaptation and had probably learnt not long before seeing it (dragged by an excitable friend), that it was even a film.
All too often do people unknowingly find themselves in the latter category, and while this is not a negative position to be in, having no biased preconceived opinions, it does remove these audiences from understanding subtext within the film; the moment in which the camera lingers on Gus when Hazel’s mum suggests they should revisit Amsterdam one day.
It is easy to detect those who haven’t read the book, ‘Oh it’s the one about the cancer kids right?’ and before fans are able to express, ‘Yes, but it’s about so much more: love, literature, life’, they are cut off after ’yes but’, and in turn really only contributing to the ignorant cancer synopsis.
With film adaptations constantly in demand (anticipated releases include The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, and Fifty Shades of Grey), there is always a fearful wait for devoted readers to see how loyal their cinematic versions will be. Fortunately, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (writers of 500 Days of Summer) have penned an extremely loyal adaptation. ‘[W]riters of significantly higher stature begged for the job’ said Elizabeth Gabler, president of Fox 2000. ‘[They] won her over in part by explaining how little they planned to do to it’. Many of the novel’s ‘near-genius’ (Time Magazine) one-liners, from which the characters’ philosophical perspectives are established, are still present in the film. A personal favourite: ‘I fell in love with him like you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once’. Nonetheless reducing 25 chapters into 126 minutes has inevitably forced memorable scenes to be cut altogether.
The subplot of Caroline Mathers, Gus’ girlfriend who died of brain cancer and further troubles Hazel into believing that she’s becoming a ‘grenade’, is completely removed. There is also an absence in the film of Gus’ parents reminding the teenagers that they can’t go into the basement alone to watch V for Vendetta, nor Hazel’s to interrupt them during an intimate moment on the plane, ‘I’m right here […] Sitting next to you. Your mother’. This is a somewhat less realistic depiction of teenage romance than in the novel, as there is almost always parental interference. Realism is further compromised by the Hollywood vision when Gus grinningly reveals he loves Hazel for the first time over dinner at Oranjee, instead of the tender, awkward and claustrophobic sense readers observe when Gus is left with ‘his head against the window’ of the plane when Hazel doesn’t reply in the novel. Further cuts include Hazel’s visit to Isaac in hospital after his eye surgery (now blind), and the selling of the nostalgic swing set.
Although these edits do not alter the overarching tone of the film nor its humorous, off-kilter exploration of ‘young people who learn to live life with one foot in the grave’ (praise by Jodi Picoult, author of My Sister’s Keeper), they do remind readers that while a film adaptation brings these characters into existence onscreen, it is not a simplistic transference. For each individual reader there is a unique set of Augustuses and Hazels. In deciding to watch the film, readers must temporarily acknowledge their own transformation in becoming audiences and be conscious that they are exposing themselves to compromises of the novel, and imperatively of the world they have conjured in their heads.
Separated from the momentum of the novel, many audiences have however felt that the film was ‘slow paced and uneventful’, with some speculating this is perhaps because it ‘followed the book too closely’.
Whether it is the novel or film version of The Fault in our Stars which will ultimately be looked upon as ‘better’, in terms of adaptation the answer is always somewhat irrelevant; they tell the same story in purposefully different ways. In cooperating with Green’s desire to consider the novel as fiction, the cinematic adaptation can be understood most simply as an abbreviated retelling, and in whichever medium the story of Hazel-Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters is told, ‘it’s a metaphor’.