The movie I chose to review was The Fault in our Stars because I had read the book, but never seen the movie. The adaptation to film was surprisingly good and it definitely made me think about how we can take our health for granted, as well as how disease can have catastrophic effects on how we live our lives. The storyline of TFIOS is striking because it follows the life of Hazel Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old with thyroid cancer which spread into her lungs, who falls in love with Augustus Waters, an amputee and bone cancer survivor in a cancer support group. Hazel is encouraged by her parents to go since she has become increasingly withdrawn and depressed. Due to a clinical trial of an experimental new drug, Hazel’s cancer wasn’t progressing, but her health was still in poor condition and she faced the reality of her immortality at a young. Due to her condition, she is reluctant to strike up a relationship and agrees to a strict friendship. Their friendship revolves around Hazel’s favorite book, which Augustus agrees to read and frustratingly finds that it ends abruptly (symbolically of life, Hazel explains). Despite the book preparing you for Hazels death, the two fall in love during a trip to Amsterdam and Gus confides in Hazel that his cancer came back. The novel ends with the Gus’s deteriorating health, and ultimate death.
I felt that it fit nicely into some of the themes we discussed in this class, like our discussion on integrated systems. I believe that there is a relationship between body and mind that transcends biomedicine. Many of our “treatments” leave out the mind’s effect on our physical wellbeing. An example of women who were unable to conceive due to hypothalamic amenorrhea receiving cognitive behavior therapy to treat their infertility was a good example of how the mind can also play a major role in our own health (Berga, 2003). I thought that it was interesting how Hazel’s parents were worried about Hazel living a “normal” life, and encouraged her to go to a support group to combat suspected depression. Cancer seems cut and dry: something is wrong with our bodies, our “machines”. However, I think the important part of this book is its connection between body and mind, showing that physical illness can impact our mental health, and visa versa.
Importantly, a theme we discussed in the class was how increasingly medicalized life is becoming (Gabriel, 2016). TFIOS showed biomedicine in a way that is experienced by many cancer patients: a painful process of deteriorating health, as we experienced with Augustus’ demise. Yet, due to an experimental drug Hazel is still alive despite her grim diagnosis. Treatments today can help early caught cancers go into remission. Yet, in other class examples (like The Spirit) we see how medicalization can ignore culture and even negatively impact our health, like how the Lee’s daughter’s medicine ultimately led to a compromised immune system which led to her death. It’s important to recognize how biomedicine is really wonderful scientific advances, but how it ignores a lot of the emotional toil behind the disease. Hazel living with cancer is a perfect example, because though she is being kept alive, her quality of life is diminished and she is constantly plagued by the probability of not making it to her next birthday. This reinforces that there is a balance between medicalization and emotional support.
The most interesting connection I made was with the parent-child relationship. In The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, we read about two Hmong immigrants whose child is diagnosed with severe epilepsy (Fadiman, 1997). In TFIOS we are introduced to two parents who are trying to keep their daughter alive, despite the odds of her survival being overwhelmingly out of their favor. I believe that an important theme in this class was how culture affects our treatments, but this connection showed the life-implications. In Spirit, the Lee’s daughter is taken away from them after they stop giving her the medication prescribed because they believe it is hurting her more than it is helping. After a year, they are able to get their daughter back, under the condition that they continue to give her the medicine. The Lee’s do everything in their power to help their daughter in their culture: from ritual animal sacrifice to vast compromising on their cultural beliefs. The Lee’s called an ambulance because they thought that was the only way for their daughter to get sufficient, immediate care. In TFIOS, we witnessed how far the parents would go to keep their terminally ill daughter alive. They started her on a clinical trial of drugs. They had treated her with chemo and other radiation to try and combat the disease. I think that it’s interesting that we think of sacrifices as extreme, but refuse to acknowledge the severe impact of pumping toxins into our children’s bodies. The parent-child bond really surpasses culture and helps us connect the two stories. Both parents were loving, and did everything within their power to do the best thing for their children. They made major sacrifices, and both grieved their children.
I do believe this film would be a good addition to the class in the future because I think it is thought provoking to our generation. Many of us never had to deal with major diseases affecting our day-to-day life, but can relate to these characters because they reside in our own American, biomedical culture. I think that using this move to compare and contrast with the many other examples this class used is important because it shows the importance of mental health, and “spiritual” treatments.
- Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.
- Berga, Sarah, M.D. “Recovery of Ovarian Activity in Women with Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Who Were Treated with Cognitive Behavior Therapy.” Fertility and Sterility, October, 2003.
- Cynthia Gabriel. “Medicalization” of everyday life. Lecture 4.1. 2016.