Thankfully The Fault in Our Stars presents a more nuanced and healthy manifestation of YOLO—one that is less oriented toward reckless self-gratification and more concerned with loving others.
Stars is based on the best-selling book by John Green, a young adult fiction author who is also a "generational voice" of sorts, with a massive following on his YouTube vlog, Tumblr, and the like. He grasps the language, media habits, cynicism and idealism of Millennials in a way that feels neither awkward nor condescending.
In books like Stars, Green wagers that young people aren't just selfie-obsessed technology zombies, but people with souls and inklings toward the transcendent. His highly quotable writing is great fodder for inspirational tweets, Pinterest boards, and BuzzFeed lists, filling a need for a glimpse of some higher meaning amidst the maelstrom of over-mediation.
Green has made no secret of his Christian faith. Before he became a writer he wanted to be a minister. After studying literature and philosophy at Kenyon College, he applied to divinity school but instead got a job as a chaplain at an Ohio children's hospital.
During the six months that he worked there, Green struggled to reconcile the reality of evil with the ostensible omniscience of God. "All the reading I'd done, it meant nothing," he said in a recent interview. "No idea could hold up in the face of this reality. I was with actual children and actual families, and their kids were dying, and it was just devastating."
Stars is in part a film about this question of all questions: why does suffering exist, and why does it seem so arbitrary and unequally dispersed? The title is a nod to Julius Caesar ("the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves") but an inversion of it. Green suggests that the "fault" is with the stars, or with God, and that it's a mystery and seeming injustice that we must accept. Why does someone like Anne Frank have to die so horribly and at such a young age? The film addresses the question directly when Hazel (in one of the film's more on-the-nose moments) visits the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam.
And yet Stars doesn't get bogged down in theodicy. At the end of the day it accepts suffering as an inevitability of life, something that touches all, even the greatest men who ever lived. Even God.
It's no coincidence that in one of the earliest scenes of the film, a support group of sick teenagers meets in a church and sit in a circle surrounding a homemade "sacred heart of Jesus" rug. They've come together quite literally around the heart of Jesus, which is to say the heart of suffering. The scene made me think of Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss, a book that also wrestles with the scourge of suffering, cancer and death but finds comfort in the cross.
"I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" writes Wiman. "He felt human destitution to its absolute degree; the point is that God is with us, not beyond us, in suffering."