In a world where there may be infinite love stories, some love stories are bigger. Love Story and The Fault in our Stars have 44 years distancing from one another, but these movies have so many similarities.
The two films, thus, take the audience not on a quest for the ultimate goal of falling in love or winning someone over, but instead simply show the viewer the moments of love. Even the message of the movies can be boiled down to: “they don’t have forever, they have each other” (TFIOS).
Love Story for many is now a forgotten gem about how love is more important than money, school, wealth, and death. The Fault in Our Stars is a real portrayal of how love makes the sad things okay and meaningless compared to the love that is found; even when the bad feels infinite, love is bigger. The way each movie uses this theme on love makes them legendary and important and something more than just another romance film.
Love Story and The Fault in Our Stars are ‘first love’ films. Love Story has two youthful college students meeting and falling in love. It is Oliver’s (Ryan O’Neil) pursuit as he doggedly tries to get Jenny (Ali MacGraw) to admit she likes him that begins their story. Likewise, in The Fault in Our Stars Gus (Ansel Elgort) must make the first move to get Hazel (Shailene Woodley) to express interest in him.
Each movie also begins with a dark moment. Not the dark moment of film structure, but a moment where it tells you everything is not going to end happily ever after between the couple.
Love Story opens with the slowest and saddest pan-down-zoom-in on Oliver before, in voice over, he tells us that this is a story about death, a girl, and their love. The Fault in Our Stars shows a black screen as Hazel extrapolates that death and love are hard and she’s about to tell us the real facts of both. From the very beginning these movies start in similar melancholy places before we even meet the couple.
The two films start their perspective romances a bit differently. The Fault in Our Stars is set up in a way that the audience gets to experience Hazel outside of her interaction and love of Gus. Love Story only gives us that introduction to sad Oliver before we see time revert to when he meets Jenny and their romance takes off like a rocket! No action is wasted as Love Story begins immediately, but The Fault in Our Stars’ beginning is more real; we live and are a person before we meet and fall in love.
To categorize both of these films as first love films is perfect because both couples are in their youth. Oliver and Jenny are in college and they spend the middle part of the movie growing their romance, but also starting out their adult lives. They both experience moments of impulsive and erratic behavior that is often typified by childishness. When Oliver has his temper tantrum about not going to his father’s birthday, Jenny runs out of the house forgetting her keys. Oliver’s response is to run about town looking for her only to find her locked out of the apartment in the cold. Both showed irrational and illogical emotional responses that speak more of petulant children than adults living on their own.
Gus and Hazel, still very young with Hazel attending online college, have their own moments of idolization, insecurity, and innocence that makes them eager to explore and discover. Even though both Hazel, and later Gus, are dying they always choose to experience life over doing nothing, because they can find the amazing wonder in it all. A great example of their childlike wonder comes from the fake book within the story, “An Imperial Affliction.” The two become mesmerized by the book and the way the book suddenly ends. They chase their ideas about the book to the author in Amsterdam, where their rose-tinted dreams are crushed by the harsh reality that the man is a rude, alcoholic, ‘douche pants’.
Their awful experience with the bitter man doesn’t ruin their trip as they experience many amazing aspects of Amsterdam; the wonderful food and champagne, the freedom of not being constantly monitored by parents or machines, and an uplifting journey of hope through the Anne Frank House. These moments seem almost dreamlike in their splendor especially in comparison to the realities that they live in the states. Their dreamland doesn’t last forever, though. Upon return, Gus begins going back through chemo and has a horrible incident where he inadvertently hurts himself by pushing his independence; this irresponsible independence has him acting emotional and frustrated when he cannot get his way.
Lastly, these movies fill the most important role of a first love by being the first time any of the characters are falling in love. Each person loved and first discovered love for the first time with each other. The reason first loves are so important is because of the discovery of love and how to love and be loved. It is what makes these movies so popular. Who doesn’t want to fall in love for the first time, again?
As easy as it is to pair these films together, they are not the same. The biggest difference comes from the more technical aspects of the productions, which shows exactly the decades these movies were shot in. Love Story screams 70’s through the costumes, the hair, the props, the sets, and most prominently the actual image quality. The gritty almost brown tone to the film’s image is something very specific to that time, and while it doesn’t necessarily detract from the movie, it is clearly a movie from the 70’s. Every costume piece is a product of the times from the bellbottoms to the thick rimmed glasses.
There is also a lot of focus on how abnormal Jenny is as she rides the final waves of feminism and the mistrust of authority into the 70’s. When the couple discusses their wedding with Jenny’s father the tell him about how they are changing the lines and leading their own ceremony. The father is averse at first, but later adheres to their new-aged ways. Shockingly, though, Jenny’s diversion from the norm does nothing to stop her from being the house wife society demands she become. In complete contrast to her wild, youthful, free, women-can-have-their-own-minds personality she ever so easily gives up studying abroad along with her dreams to become a famous musician and instead becomes a school teacher. For her to take up the doting-wife mantle so easily took away from her character and any sort of reality the film established.
The Fault in Our Stars is also a product of its time. The sharp image quality paired with the subdued saturation is very common in digital films of this decade. On top of that, the use of casual slow motion and hand-held camera work provide more complex images that are almost demanded of movies, as anything less complex in camera technique becomes trite and common-place amongst the century’s worth of films. Even the portrayal of characters is so vastly different and decade centric. The hoity confidence and elegance of Jenny and Oliver worked in the 70’s for first love, but now-a-days first love comes in the form of awkwardness shared and symbolic ways to say, ‘I love you.”
The love scene between Hazel and Gus shows them trying to work around their diseases to find a way to be together; it is awkward and they must be careful and they each have problems they feel insecure about, but its touching and cute. The way The Fault in Our Stars focuses on symbols and symbolism is oddly not shown in the visual aspect of the movie as much as it is talked about in the actual text. Symbols like cigarettes, infinity, stars, and their own private symbol of ‘okay’ come up every five minutes, yet the movie does little visually to show any of these symbols or even create its own. This causes an interesting dissonance from what is heard and what is seen that doesn’t detract from the film, but plays up how much of a book-to-film movie it is.
It’s also interesting to note the difference of POV. It is Oliver’s perspective which guides us through Love Story while Hazel takes us through The Fault in Our Stars. The choice of having a male or female narrator, I believe is a product of the times in which these films were made. As previously stated the 70’s seep through every facet of Love Story and at the time stories that were big, that were meant to make money and reach a lot of people were male driven.
While this is still something the 21st century is struggling with, a female is the protagonist of The Fault in Our Stars, because romance is synonymous with chick-flick and everyone knows that nothing draws in ladies more than the ability to put themselves into the perspective of the main character as she experiences a sweeping love story; maybe since there are so few films that allow a female perspective. This difference is not only common for the eras of these films, but arguably synonymous to how these genres made money and both of these films made plenty of money.
By having roots that start with book narrative to be then adapted to film meant the movies had to address all the expectations that come with readers preconceived ideas. They both do a great job telling the stories and being highly enjoyable, and so did lots of other people. Had Love Story come out this year the buzz would have rivaled that of The Fault in Our Stars. What keeps these films so distinct though is the way they capture the times and draw in viewers with one-sided POV. As one story focuses on fighting against the norm, the other uses the ever-present deadline of cancer to focus on the awkward and the simply symbolic moments.
Love Story and The Fault in Our Stars maybe about death, but it is the growth and life of love that make these movies important to people and to the genre of romance.