August 11, 2015

‘Paper Towns’ … coming of age, seriously

When John Green graduated from Kenyon College he thought about becoming an Episcopal priest. He changed his mind after serving as a student chaplain in a Columbus, Ohio hospital.

But his experiences have brought us books and movies that move the heart and touch the soul. ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ was inspired by his chaplain work. And ‘Paper Towns’ is a product of Green’s high school years being bullied.

This film is more than a simple “coming-of-age” story. John Green has aptly captured the angst and anticipation of high school age folks as they begin to grasp the complexity of having one foot in the future and one foot still in the here and now.

The title ‘Paper Towns’ refers to town names existing only on maps; a cartographers signature, if you will, to prove ownership of a map. The movie shows us how a young high school student takes ownership of his life given the precarious nature and unpredictability of teenage life.

Green is also a prodigious video blogger on YouTube. He has developed a following of “nerdfighters” who likely have had similar high school experiences to his own. So he’s something of a generational phenom whose literary style is so well-crafted he’s been compared to Walt Whitman.

‘Paper Towns’ opened in the USA July 24, 2015. It’s not meant to compete with the comic book 3D blockbusters. But it is meant to—and succeeds quite well—at telling a story of a young man finding himself with the help of friends and foes in a Florida high school.

If you plan to see this film, don’t be surprised if you easily slip into memories of your own senior year in high school. Hormones are going crazy, traditional values instilled by significant adults are called into question, close friends, as well as yourself, have one foot on the new path of life greeting it with a sense of sorrow for leaving it as it was. Of course, you are either in love, hoping to be in love or recovering from being in love.

This film is filled with human-ness. The characters are vulnerable without being sappy. They depict the end of an era (high school) as they reflect on the “last-ness” of it all.

Without saying Quentin (Nat Wolff) is the Christ figure in this story, we can say Q comes to know who he is and what he’s called to do through the community that surrounds him. It’s not much different than Jesus discovering himself in the context of his community. We all learn something of ourselves from others and hopefully God is speaking through them giving us direction to find our inner compass. 

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