** This post contains spoilers**
My college student daughter, who is home for part of the summer, suggested on Friday morning that she, her twin sisters, 14 year olds, and I, go and see the new tearjerker movie, The Fault in Our Stars. I inwardly groaned at this suggestion. I really didn’t want to spend my evening watching a movie in a theatre full of teen girls sniffling and crying. I also didn’t want to get caught up in the plot and find myself sniffling and crying! However, college daughter’s idea prevailed, so after supper, with tissues in our purses, we traveled to Waynesville Cinema 8. (I don’t understand why Rolla’s Forum Theatre can’t seem to get the newest movies thus, losing our movie going dollars to Waynesville. That may have to be a blog topic for another day!)
I settled in my seat as the movie began. The plot was pretty simple. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 18 years old and has been battling cancer since she was a child. First she had thyroid cancer but then it metastasized into her lungs. There is no cure but she has been on an experimental drug and so far, no new tumors and the tumors she has aren’t growing. She lives with a portable oxygen tank and a breathing tube under her nose. Her parents worry that she is depressed so they urge her to attend a support group for teens living with cancer that meets at a local church. Reluctantly, Hazel Grace attends where she meets her future love, Augustus Waters. He, having beaten osteosarcoma in his leg and wears a prosthetic leg, attends the support group to be there for his friend, Isaac, who is living with retinoblastoma which will leave him blind.
As I sat there and watched these teen characters dealing with cancer, life, and death, I kept comparing it to another tearjerker movie made in 1939 that also dealt with love, cancer, life, and death. That film was Dark Victory, which starred Bette Davis in a tour de force performance. Davis was nominated for Best Actress at that year’s Academy Awards and Dark Victory was also nominated for Best Picture, but being that the year was 1939, they didn’t stand a chance due to a film about a tough southern belle fighting for her land and trying to figure out who she really loves as the Yankees invade the South during the Civil War.
In Dark Victory, Bette is Judith Traherne, a rich party girl. She loves to watch her horses compete at the races, she loves to spend her money on parties, and she has a lot of friends in this monied set. She has also left a trail of broken hearts around her. (Ronald Reagan plays one of her pals, a lovable drunk!) Judith begins to have chronic headaches so she sees her doctor who recommends that she see a Dr. Steele, who is young and brilliant about brain problems. It doesn’t hurt that he is quite handsome, too. Dr. Steele determines that Judith has a tumor and needs brain surgery to treat it. During the surgery, he discovers that the tumor is malignant and nothing can be done for Judith, that she has 10 months left to live. The doctors decide not to tell Judith, but Dr. Steele does admit the truth to Judith’s friend, Ann. Judith accidentally gets a look at her medical file and finds out the truth. She is angry that Dr. Steele hadn’t told her but did tell Ann. Judith decides to follow the bad advice of eat, drink, and be merry for who knows what tomorrow will bring. One evening she runs into Dr. Steele, who gets her alone and scolds her for this type of living. He advises her to find peace with the diagnosis so that she can face death with dignity. She realizes he is right. Judith and Dr. Steele also realize that they love each other and wed, deciding to live each day as it comes, knowing that death will take Judith sooner than later. When Dr. Steele is invited to speak at a medical convention about new ways to treat brain diseases, Judith urges him to go. She knows how hard he’s worked and been looking forward to speaking. She doesn’t reveal to him that her eyesight is failing her. As he drives away in the taxi to the airport, Judith bravely takes to her bed to prepare to die with dignity.
I compared and contrasted the two films in my mind. Dark Victory has Judith for the main character: a strong, independent young woman. The Fault in our Stars has Hazel Grace for the main character, not yet in her twenties, with strong opinions, she is still dependent on her parents for clothing, food, shelter, and paying the onerous medical bills. In both of these plots, the main characters fall in love. Only in Dark Victory is a true commitment made with a marriage. That one little point keeps me from liking the 2014 movie.
How refreshing it would have been for the author, John Green, to have Hazel Grace and Augustus marry one another! To wait to consummate their love for one another! They could have had a simple ceremony in front of a judge, and then lived in the basement at the Water’s home, since Augustus had turned it into a “cool” apartment-like abode. Teenage pregnancy rates don’t need anymore encouragement than they already get from the entertainment industry. Sadly, a better plot point was thrown out the window to go with a perceived societal idea that teens can’t wait to jump into bed with one another.
On the way home, my daughters and I were surprised that we didn’t sniffle and cry like we thought we would. I said that I found the plight of the parents in the film more touching. Watching these parents bravely be there for their dying kids, especially a flashback scene to when Hazel Grace almost died at the age of 11, got to me. The scene where Hazel Grace and Augustus shared a passionate series of kisses at the Anne Frank House struck my twin daughters as “awkward” and weird how the surprised bystanders visiting the Frank House started clapping.
Dark Victory was originally a play written by George Emerson Brewer, Jr. and Bertram Bloch. As I mentioned earlier in my post, The Fault in our Stars was a book written by John Green. Dark Victory was labeled as a Woman’s Picture when it came to the box office in 1939 and I’m pretty sure The Fault in our Stars was labeled as a vehicle to pull in the teenage girl audience.
Dark Victory will be airing tonight on Turner Classic Movies at 1:30 am CST, so if you are able, set up your dvr machine to record it. That’s what I plan on doing and I’ll let my daughters watch it with me, popcorn to eat in a giant bowl, and let them see a similar plot and how Hollywood and the social mores of 1939 handled it.