Sixteen-year-old Hazel has thyroid cancer. A new drug has bought her some time but her constant companion is an oxygen tank and her illness is still terminal. Augustus lost a leg to cancer but is now in remission. Good-looking, charming and with a penchant for keeping an unsmoked cigarette between his lips as a ‘metaphor’, Hazel is instantly attracted. As they become friends, Hazel persuades him to read her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), which she finds to be the most honest portrayal of cancer. The book, which ends mid-sentence, leaves many questions unanswered and Hazel is desperate to ask the author what happens next. As Hazel and Gus become closer, Hazel is hesitant to leave another broken heart in her wake, but Gus won’t be deterred.
It is not until they travel to Amsterdam, on a once-in-a lifetime trip to see Van Houten, that she allows herself to fall head-over-heels in love. The trip is not what they expected though, for Van Houten’s reception is not entirely welcoming and Gus has some news to share. How much time will the young lovers have together? And how can they go about living a meaningful life in the short time that they do have?
- What was your initial response to the film? Did you enjoy it, and why, or why not? What did you find particularly interesting about it?
- If you’ve read the book, how did the film compare? How does the film translate the first-person narrative of Hazel? What did you think of the way the text and email messages were portrayed? What did you think of Shailene Woodley’s performance as Hazel and Ansel Elgort’s as Gus?
‘I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep, slowly then all at once.’ – Hazel
- How did you react to the characters of Hazel and Gus? How did their love story make you feel? What was your favourite scene of them together?
- What did you make of this portrayal of cancer? What emotions did it provoke within you and did you expect to feel all of these? In particular, how did you react to the film’s conclusion?
‘You don’t get to choose the ones you hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices, I hope she likes hers.’ – Gus
- Who is Hazel afraid of hurting and does she have any choice in whether this happens? To what extent does she have a say in who hurts her? In your own experience, how far is what Gus says true?
‘Like all real love stories ours will die with us, like it should.’ – Hazel
- What does Hazel mean by this? How far is this true of love stories both current and throughout history? Have there been love stories that didn’t die with the couple, and if so, why and how?
- What does Hazel believe about the importance of being truthful and how does she show this throughout the film? To what extent would you say that she compromises her views at the funeral? Are there certain scenarios where it is better to not be truthful, and why or why not?
Hazel: It’s so unfair.
Gus: Apparently the world is not a wish granting factory.
- Do you think life has been ‘unfair’ to Hazel and Gus, and can you give a reason for your answer? What deeper assumptions might guide our ideas about what constitutes a ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ universe? How does the way terminal illness is portrayed in The Fault in Our Stars compare to the way it is generally viewed in our society?
- What might be some of the implications of atheistic and theistic worldviews in relation to terminal illness? Is it easy to be consistent with our own worldview when it comes to thinking about and experiencing the effects of terminal illness?
‘I want more numbers than I’m likely to get. My god do I want more days for Gus, but I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. You gave me a forever within a number of days.’ – Hazel
- What influence does time have on our relationships? How do relationships change when time is limited? How might our perspective on life change when faced with our own or someone else’s mortality?
- What does Gus believe constitutes a meaningful life and what are Hazel’s views on the topic? Do either of their views change over the course of the film, and why or why not? What does the film conclude about how we might go about living a meaningful life? What does our society say about how to achieve a meaningful life, and do you find this answer satisfactory?
Gus: I definitely believe in something, otherwise what is the point?
Hazel: Maybe there is no point.
- How do Hazel and Gus differ on their views in relation to what happens after death? Do you think Hazel is right to say that people don’t think much about death and what comes after? Why might this be the case? How might believing in something after death affect the way a person lives their life?