In every way except one, Hazel and Gus are normal teenagers. They want to experience life. To live. To love. To last. That one problem? Both have cancer. Such is the story in The Fault in Our Stars, a best-selling novel by John Green that’s now packing movie theaters full of weeping fans. It’s a tear-inducing tale of love and death, life and loss, transcendence and tragedy, hope and agnosticism.
Most of those themes are also present in the film’s 16-song soundtrack. “Our love was made for movie screens,” Kodaline tells us on “All I Want.” And movie scores too, it turns out.
“All of the Stars,” by Ed Sheeran, suggests that two people are separated by an ocean (which could be a metaphorical stand-in for death), but they find hope looking to the horizon (“So open your eyes and see/The way our horizons meet/ … All of these stars will guide us home”). Ray LaMontagne’s “Without Words” contrasts life’s frailty with quiet evidence of God’s presence (“I can hear the morning birds/Light upon the branches/And each in turn/Would sing of all God’s praises/Without words”). That song also links the ideas of death and sin, suggesting that both must be relinquished or transcended (“It’s with myself I fight/Sin you’ve carried like a corpse/Across your back these days/Let it fall away/Let it fall away”).
“Not About Angels,” by Birdy, tells us celestial beings visit us in our suffering (“‘Cause what about, what about angels?/They will come, they will go, make us special”). “Simple as This” (Jake Bugg) talks about a man looking for meaning in drinking and drugs … and not finding it there (“Went looking for reverence/Tried to find it in a bottle/And came back again/High on a hash pipe of good intent/But it only brought me down”). Confucianism doesn’t do the trick either (“Memorized the mantra Confucius said/But it only let me down).
Grouplove’s “Let Me In” finds someone proclaiming, “I’ll be waitin’ for ya’/Catch my hand, I’ll be fightin’ for ya’.” “Boom Clap” (Charli XCX) rightly asserts that love is better than riches. “When I’m Alive” (STRFKR) gives a nod to carpe diem. In a similar vein, “Strange Things Will Happen,” by Radio Dept., strives to be thankful for the good days in a terminally ill person’s life. “All I Want,” from the aforementioned Kodaline, mingles thankfulness and lament: “So you brought out the best in me/A part of me I’ve never seen/You took my soul and wiped it clean/Our love was made for movie screens/But if you loved me/Why’d you leave me?”
Hazel and Gus merge more than just their minds in the movie. And a few tracks here include suggestive lyrics that go along with that. The most sensual suggestion comes on “Without Words”: “Whispered kisses in your ears/The touch so soft and warm/Confessions all of love for you/Yes, without words.” “All of the Stars” includes: “You were lying next to me/I looked across and fell in love.” “All I Want” implies that a couple once shared a bed before death separated them (“When you said your last good-bye/I died a little bit inside/I lay in tears in bed all night/Alone without you by my side”). Charli XCX says that a couple’s “first kiss felt just like a drug.”
“Long Way Down” finds a girl contemplating “leaving” while “She stands on the ledge/She says, ‘It looks so high’/You know it’s a/Long way down.” The band Indians takes a few too many steps toward despair on “Oblivion,” singing, “Close to you, I want forever/But it won’t last.” “Simple as This” also seems to shut God out of the meaning equation.
(I should also note that the band-name abbreviation STRFKR mentioned above is short for the obscene “Starf‑‑‑er.”)
The Huffington Post’s Christopher Rosen has suggested that the soundtrack to The Fault in Our Stars might be this teen generation’s Breakfast Club. And that raises the question of what messages young listeners ruminating repeatedly on these songs’ lyrics are likely to internalize and identify with.
Many aren’t too bad, actually, even though they are admittedly quite melancholy. Love is represented as a powerful, beautiful thing, while death is seen as a painful separation from those we love. It’s a mournful motif, to be sure, but it rarely descends into nihilism or despair, preferring instead a quiet tenacity, something that bears witness to the sanctity and goodness of life amid the suffering and inevitability of death.
One or two songs stray when they respond to death’s nearness by either indulging sexual attractions or remembering them. And few place hope in any sort of heavenly life (given to us by God) beyond the grave.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.