I have loved John Green’s Paper Towns since I first read it, almost seven years ago. When I first read the book, I was enamored with the allure and mystique of Margo Roth Spigelman. She was the embodiment of the aesthetic and personality that I thought I wanted to cultivate for myself. I wanted to be wild and spectacular, while maintaining a distant intimacy with the few people that I surrounded myself with.
Although, I never quite shook that desire to be this…phantasmagorical presence, I have grown to understand the problematic nature of it all.
But I did start to realize that in many ways that type of personality keeps good people at arms length. And that’s not really fair. Reading Paper Towns was like taking a journey where you can hop into every single character. Sometimes when I read the book, I overwhelmingly related to Margo. Others times, Quentin. And in those ways, the movie did an amazing job of capturing the entire feeling of the book for me.
At the end of Paper Towns, the book and Paper Towns, the movie, I had the exact same feeling. The feeling of sad nostalgia that comes with growing up, growing apart and growing into one’s self as well as an sense of excitement or anticipation about the magical experiences yet to come.
For me, Paper Towns is not a sad movie, or an overly hopeful one. It’s raw and it’s honest and it’s beautiful. Sometimes we build people up in our minds. We make them larger than life, project all of these unrealistic expectations onto them. But at the end of the day, they…and really all of us, are just people, deeply flawed and complex people trying to figure out who we are and where we fit in this world. The shattering of fantasies is never an easy thing to tackle, most of the time when we feed into these imaginings of people, it’s because they represent something we want for ourselves but don’t feel comfortable enough to be.
The movie and the book all primarily surround this journey. One final journey between a group of friends (Q, Radar, and Ben) that they undertake just before the end of their high school careers. Each has lofty goals and plans for the future and this trip is one of their last big moments together before they each disperse down their respective paths. As a college student, nearing the end of her undergraduate career, this is one experience that I am about to have to come to terms with myself. Pretty soon, in a year or two’s time, I’ll be packing up and moving on to the next big adventure, wherever that is. And I won’t be able to bring my friends to tag along, because we’ve each been called to pursue something different and to be someone different.
“Maybe its like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And then things happen – these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack in places. And I mean, yeah once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable. Once it starts to rain inside the Osprey, it will never be remodeled. But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And its only that time that we see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. When did we see each other face to face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade, but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”
On top of all of that, there’s Q trying to resolve the Margo Roth Spigelman of his fantasy and the actual living in the flesh girl. There’s on scene in the movie (and in the book) where Q is sitting outside the only physical structure in the paper town of Algoe, NY waiting for Margo and he has the realization that the Margo he wants, the Margo of his dreams, isn’t real. He realizes that Margo isn’t his miracle, she isn’t his saving grace, she isn’t some big mysterious adventure. She’s just a person. In the exact same way he is. Margo isn’t an anomaly or puzzle to be solved. She’s just a girl trying to create something real for herself in a world where people seem determined to fictionalize her.
In the book and especially in the movie, I loved how the typical cliche teen romance ending was completely subverted. Q didn’t “get the girl.” He didn’t pour his heart out to Margo and have her throw her arms around him in an impassioned kiss. They didn’t make promises to love each other forever and ever and embark of some epic adventure love story. They could never have all of that because Q never really saw Margo as a person. She was always an idea. And no lasting love can ever be formed when people fall in love with their imaginings of a person instead of the real and sometimes brutal truths that make them who they are.
Now don’t get me wrong, they did kiss, but in a way that was far more ‘thanks for the memories” than “let’s create more memories” and then they quietly departed down their separate paths, jumping headfirst into forming their respective lives. In his ending monologue, Q and his friends also go their separate ways and they each do so knowing that although separate, there will always be a string that connects them. And no matter how rousing or adventurous their lives turn out, even if they don’t, they are still valid and worthy of excitement and exhilaration. The zeal of each moment we are each granted is the point of everything.
5/5 stars. Would highly, highly recommend. (I also recognize my bias. I absolutely love John Green)
If you’ve seen Paper Towns, let me know what you thought!