Extraordinary love and unexpected endings, what more could you ask for? The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay bring everything you’re looking for in a summer blockbuster.
Choices. That’s what life comes down to, doesn’t it? Choices define a person’s existence. It could be a happy existence or a painful one. Or some type of a mix of both happiness and pain. As Gramps says in If I Stay, “Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you.”
Both If I Stay and The Fault in Our Stars come down to this fundamental concept. The characters in these films must make choices. And some of these choices make them.
Choices about ordinary life
The protagonist of If I Stay, Mia Hall (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) loves the classical cello. But being raised by two punk-rock parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard), Mia’s affinity to classical music made her feel like “an alien in [her] own family”.
Hazel Grace Lancaster (played by Shailene Woodley), protagonist of The Fault in Our Stars, has cancer. She believes that she is a “side-effect” of living, and is just waiting around until she ceases to exist.
Two characters that didn’t necessarily believe that they had a choice in their existence. Both Moretz and Woodley captured the essence of their characters with the skill that two well-seasoned actresses should have.
Mia was by no means a boring character, although she was seemingly less colorful than her punk parents. Moretz made Mia’s out-of-place regimented personality relatable, like she was the chill-out-on-a-Sunday-in-your-pj’s best friend as opposed to the stay-out-until-three-on-a-Friday-night-in-a-party-dress one. Moretz also brought out Mia’s passionate side when it came to the cello. The 17-year-old actress squashed 15 years of cello experience into seven months before shooting and when she held that instrument close to her heart on that screen, it was impossible to tell the difference between the time spans. The cello became a part of Moretz like how it became a part of Mia.
Hazel too was not the party-girl, she couldn’t be with her cancer taking away proper use of her lungs. Crowded clubs and concerts are not ideal places to take an oxygen tank. But Hazel was steady, like the drip of oxygen drizzling into her nose from her tank, and Woodley did a fine job falling into Hazel’s routine, making the character I had imagined for months come alive.
Choices about love
In science, even though opposites attract, there is still something that those opposites share in common, like how protons and electrons are both atoms. Adam and Mia are both musicians who come together because of their passion for playing. Augustus and Hazel are both cancer patients who come together because of a cancer support group. Yet both Adam and Augustus are quite different from Mia and Hazel.
Adam Wilde likes punk rock and thrives on the high of a late-night gig, where the crowd sips on beers and dresses in the grungy sort of ensemble that you’d expect from mosh pits. He’s quite a different key change from Mia’s classical routine. Jamie Blackley plays the smooth and intense lead guitarist of his band and lead love of Mia’s life. He not only acted incredibly well, from the lightweight flirty scenes of falling in love to the heavy intense scenes of experiencing tragedy, but Blackley also did all of his own vocals and guitar for his character. He was attractive, edgy and talented.
Augustus Waters, like Adam, is very much different from his love interest, Hazel. While Hazel is realistic and down-to-earth, Augustus prefers metaphors and pretentious ideas. Ansel Elgort was absolutely the right choice for Augustus. Although he’d met criticism on his boy-next-door-looks, which was quite the contrast from the “hot and sexy” character the book portrayed, his charm won me over completely. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect Augustus Waters.
Both these characters choose their loves, and it takes a while for each of their loves to choose them back. For Mia and Hazel, it was hard to deviate from their perpetual routines.
While sitting on the swings of a childhood swing set, Hazel tells Gus that she’s a grenade. “One day I’m going to blow up and obliterate everything in my wake. And I don’t want to hurt you,” Hazel tells Gus. He shrugs and says, “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
Similarly, Mia is afraid of the problems love causes but instead of hurting Adam, she fears he’ll hurt her. “Why do I have this feeling you’re about to mess up my entire life?” she asks on her first date with him. Adam smiles and replies, “a little mess never hurt anybody.”
But it’s the pain that no one ever saw coming that presents the next choice. A choice that no one thought they’d have to make.
Choices about death
“Poor kid’s waking up an orphan. If she wakes up.” That kid is Mia, who is lying in a hospital bed strapped to a ventilator forcing her punctured lungs to push oxygen through her veins. Mia, “the girl who thinks about the cello and Adam”, who lost everything she once knew to a slippery road and an out-of-control pickup truck. Mia… who now has a choice to make. “How do I decide this?” she asks. “How can I stay without mom and dad? How can I leave without Adam?”
When tragedy strikes, it’s hard to know what the right choice is. Sometimes it seems like there isn’t even one, that the inevitable is just forced upon you. But most of the time, there is a choice to be made.
Choices that make us
Life is a choice that makes us. We did not choose to be born, we just were. We do not choose our families, like Mia did not choose to love the classical cello in a world that turned up the punk rock. We do not choose our bodies, like Hazel did not choose to have one that was ravaged by cancer. But we are not our circumstances. We are our choices.