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Cancer in Film: Do Movies Romanticize a Deadly Disease?

Nowadays, movies are covering any and every topic they can get their hands on.  For the tear jerkers most people go for, they normally involve diseases and death.  One of the more popular diseases screenwriters and directors will go for is cancer.  Since most people have been affected by cancer, this seems like a no brainer; however, do movies present an accurate portrayal of this disease? Do they romanticize cancer or show them in a true light?  In this article we decided to look at three different movies with a plot involving cancer and talk about how cancer is portrayed. First, is it believable in general?  Second, how is the actual disease portrayed?

The Fault In Our Stars

Before we look specifically at how cancer is looked at in this movie, let’s look at the plot and love story.  Two teenagers meet in a support group and fall in love.  As far as love stories go, this one felt more believable to me.  While some moments annoyed me (like that stupid cigarette metaphor) and of course everything progressing somewhat fast between Hazel and Gus’s relationship, I felt overall I could actually believe that two people met in a support group and fell in love.

As the story continues, I really felt like I was watching an accurate representation of what cancer does to the person suffering from cancer as well as the people around them.  Hazel and Gus’s parents do so much for their children, even though they’re not sure how much longer each child has, but even with all their love and support, Hazel and Gus want their freedoms. Unfortunately, that freedom is not always a luxury, but the fact that those moments are shown really felt like a way to illustrate how bad cancer can be. You see each character in moments of strength and weakness, but when the movie finishes, you are left with a more realistic expectation of what cancer does to people.


A Walk to Remember

To start off this section, I must admit Nicholas Sparks is not my favorite writer/storyteller ever.  While many do love this movie, I can’t help but feel that I don’t totally buy into it at first.  Popular guy falls for shy, quiet girl? She changes his life? Feels a little bit like a fairytale.  Even though it seems like a common plot for stories, I can say I do see it happening, it just takes me some time to accept it.  Of course, everything moves fast (romantically) in a Nicholas Sparks film, so maybe that’s really the part I don’t buy into as much.  Overall though, it’s a story that’s may not be too far off from reality.

In relation to cancer, this movie does not do the same exact thing The Fault In Our Stars does.  While difficult moments are shown, it is not shown in the extreme way that you see cancer shown in TFIOS.  This might also be because our main protagonist Landon is dating Jaime who suffers from cancer instead of having cancer himself, but even through him, you can see how others are affected by Jaime’s cancer.  Also, at the start of this movie, you don’t know what’s wrong with Jaime.  You don’t even know if there is anything wrong with her.  The idea of not telling others about having cancer is explored, which is something many with cancer might chose to do.  New people you meet don’t need to know about your personal struggle, and unless they’re going to be there for you, maybe you don’t want many people to know.  While cancer does seem to be a bit more of a romanticised notion in this film compared to The Fault in Our Stars, they do give some accurate representations of what cancer does to a family (and relationship).



Instead of following a love story, this film follows a man with cancer as he goes through his life.  While following a serious subject,  and based on a true story, humor is also used throughout the movie, giving it a much different feel from the other two movies above.  Since this movie is focused on Adam as he proceeds through his life, this plot seems like it is believable to what people might go through in real life.

Yes, this movie is inspired by a true story, and while I’m sure some stories are somewhat exaggerated the theme and personal emotions seem very accurate to someone really going through this situation.  Even with cancer, Adam still has to deal with things such as friendships, romantic interests, parents, and his own struggles.  He sees a therapist, undergoes chemotherapy, and has to face the possibility of major surgery while also experiencing humor and true friendship as he faces these obstacles.  While not everyone would have the same experiences Adam does, the fact that he continues to live his life in the way he wants to does not seem to romanticize the idea of cancer.

While each person has different experiences with cancer and might find different meanings from these movies I’ve looked at, one thing you can’t deny is that most movies involving cancer do include true moments.  While the idea of falling in love with someone who is dying is a more romantic notion than it should be, the actual journey to get there is not shown as a romantic journey.  Love is romantic, cancer is not, and that is an important notion to keep in mind while watching anything related to cancer.

Senior at Boise State, Graduating May 2016 English Major with a Minor in American Sign Language
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