Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR, written by Tracy Oliver and directed by Ry Russo-Young, based on the novel by Nicola Yoon.
Always remember to bring a book with you while traveling on an airplane. Otherwise, you’re left with the airport newsstand. One casualty from my summer travels was picking up The Sun Is Also a Star by Ry-Russo-Young.
Now adapted into a feature film, I appreciated the filmmakers mostly dispensed with the storytelling vehicle of the novel: inner monologues, many of which reflect upon past events. At least the story of the film takes place in the present and drives the narrative onward.
The terse and ineloquent nature of modern thought in the novel also flattened out personalities, so the actors in the film speaking traditional dialogue better allows for their unique characterizations to emerge.
Unfortunately, however, altering the storytelling device was the only change the filmmakers embraced. At the center of this romance resides the dramatic question of whether someone committed to reason alone -- Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi) -- could fall for an aspiring poet and believer in love -- Daniel Jae Ho Bae (Charles Melton).
The author doubly botched what is meant by empirical truths and revealed truths. Natasha asserts that her worldview doesn’t allow for love, because she believes in science and things one can prove. Any scientist would know that their respective field doesn’t prove anything. Science is an explanation of what’s observed in the natural world at the given time. I, for one, am glad we didn’t stop at protons and neutrons as the smallest units of matter, as quantum physicists wouldn’t currently have jobs.
Somehow, too, speculative sciences factor into Natasha’s world. An unnecessary interlude into multiverses is brought up. Here, she explains this as the ability for humans to simultaneously live alternate lives. So, does she espouse belief in science alone or theoretical "science" as well? I’m not sure even the author knows.
The author misinterprets revealed truth as suggesting a God of chance and randomness. Daniel convinces himself that because he spots Natasha wearing a jacket with Deus Ex Machina emblazoned on the back (the same words he uttered earlier in the day while scratching notes in his journal) that the two are destined to be together. The ‘chance’ encounter plays more as awkward stalking as Daniel, convinced of his own faulty thinking, follows Natasha home.
The director sets the romance in a clichéd and heretical conceit, that God destined only one other person in the world for us, and, if we miss the boat, we end up walking the world cursed. In contrast, my one decade as a priest has shown me love blossoms out of choosing one potential suitor out an array of them, or after years of friendship, or after a previous love has ended and been annulled.
One final note on Deus Ex Machina. A character’s line in the film translates this as “God in the machine.” This convenient mistranslation supports the film’s erroneous theory of a pantheistic God present in the randomness and illogic of the world.
In actuality, the Latin translation from the Greek means “God from the machine.” And I would have to give the Greeks credit. Their sublime tragedies at least told the truth about the wickedness and brutal edge of human nature. Deus Ex Machina then was the contrived plot twist to provide audiences with a cheery ending.
Unlike the Greeks, this modern story does not even begin in truth and because of that, no plot device can save it. By the film’s conclusion, I was wishing the director could put this false God back into its pseudo-scientific machine.
Image: 'The Sun Is Still a Star,' (L-R) Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton/Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures' PHOTO: Atsushi Nishijima
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