06/09/2014 11:32 am ET Updated Aug 09, 2014

Hollywood's Fault and 'The Fault in Our Stars'


With two mass shootings by young men on college campuses over the past month, conversations about violence and values in the media inevitably surface. Why are these events becoming more frequent? Is it a function of the images that the troubled perpetrators see on their screens, whether in the movies and TV they watch or the video games they play? Is it a desire for notoriety? Is it, as a columnist asserted in the Washington Post after the Isla Vista shootings, that the images of wish fulfillment that we see on screen are not truly within anyone's grasp and thus unfulfilled in our frustrated reality?

While there are clearly a variety of factors that contribute to these tragic events, with their incidence increasing at an alarming rate, it is certainly worthwhile for content creators to to do some genuine soul searching to explore their role and influence on our culture and society.

At a moment like this, it is particularly refreshing to see the tremendous success of this weekend's box office leader, The Fault In Our Stars. Adapted from the bestselling young adult novel by John Green, TFIOS, as it's known to Green's adoring fans, is a beautiful and beautifully honest story about two teens who are dying from cancer and dying to squeeze everything out of life before they do.

With a spate of teen fantasy films transporting us from reality over the past several years, TFIOS is a welcome return to the world that we truly inhabit. The protagonist and narrator Hazel, played with stunning poise and power by Shailene Woodley, opens the film with a voiceover that admits the attraction of Hollywood sugarcoating and fantasizing, but promises instead to provide us the truth.

The truth of TFIOS is profound, painful and incredibly life-affirming. It is a movie about love, and death, and making every moment count. It forces us to come to terms with grief and disappointment as inherent aspects of our existence. It makes us feel and think deeply. It tells us something authentic about illness and loss, and it provides us the opportunity to cry and consider the preciousness of life.

Made for $12 million, a modest budget by Hollywood standards, the movie broke pre-sale records and was projected to earn a stellar $40 million for the weekend. Yet it exceeded even these lofty estimates and did an estimated $50 million, one of the most successful openings of the year. Teens turned out in droves, and the audience crossed over to older viewers as well.

Movies cannot be blamed for all of our society's ills, nor can they be expected to solve all of our problems. However, it is clear that our youth is consuming popular culture at remarkable rates, and it is not a reach to extrapolate that the images and ideas that we present them will color their worldview and influence their actions.

Producers Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen should be praised and thanked for providing a lovely, complex film that both entertains and inspires. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber should be applauded on yet another winning script (after 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now) which depicts real teenagers addressing real life issues with grace and hope. And John Green, TFIOS author and revolutionary internet vlogger, must be credited with a seismic shift in the young adult market towards authenticity and emotional honesty.

Hopefully, the tremendous success of this film will promote the production of more movies that encourage viewers to address and express their feelings and view their circumstances from a perspective of reality rather than fantasy. Perhaps it is precisely this type of content that will help to reverse the trends towards violence and alienation that have been steadily growing over the past several decades.

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