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REVIEW: ‘Five Feet Apart’ and the meaning of life

March 15th, 2019 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘Five Feet Apart’ and the meaning of life

Credit Lionsgate

Stella is an energetic and optimist young woman living in a world where hopelessness abounds.

She has cystic fibrosis, a chronic disease that causes mucus to accumulate in her lungs. Her life expectancy is a few days, a few months or a few years. No one knows.

Her home is the hospital, where she patiently awaits a lung transplant while getting regular check-ups and closely following her drug regiment.

She vlogs about her condition. She also lives vicariously through her friends, who visit her often and video chat with her from locations she can’t go. They tell her about the things they do and the men they date.

But lately, Stella has had her own budding romance. It’s with Will, another cystic fibrosis patient who has a similar prognosis. In many ways, they’re polar opposites. Yet they bond over their common battle against a disease that could take their lives.

Can it last? And can they continue a romance while following a hospital rule that requires them to never sit close, hug or hold hands—much less kiss?    

The romantic drama Five Feet Apart (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of a couple who must decide if their love for one another is worth risking physical contact that could cost them their lives. The film gets its name from a hospital rule that cystic fibrosis patients must remain at least six feet apart to prevent cross-contamination. Stella and Will decide to cheat and stay five feet apart -- or as Stella says, the length of a pool stick.

It stars Haley Lu Richardson (Split) as Stella, Cole Sprouse (Riverdale) as Will and Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Vice Principals) as their nurse, Barb.

The film succeeds as a romance—albeit, with some content concerns—while raising some of the most significant questions about life and death.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. Patients spit up mucus. A character dies; we see a nurse performing CPR, and then we see people grieving. Death is discussed often.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Moderate. The film has no nudity or bedroom scenes but does include basic discussions about sex (without detail). Stella and Will strip down to their underwear to show each other their scars. One cystic fibrosis patient, Poe, is gay. His dating relationships with other men is mentioned several times. He says he loves one of the guys.

Coarse Language

Moderate. S--t (11), OMG (5) d—n (3), misuse of “God” (2), a-- (2), GD (1), f-word (1), b--ch (1).

Other Positive Elements

Stella’s friends are role models for how people should treat those with chronic diseases. They go out of their way to improve Stella’s life.

Life Lessons

The film’s opening scene shows a baby while emphasizing the importance of human touch -- something we take for granted but something Stella and Will are unable to experience. Whether it’s a hug, a peck on the cheek or a pat on the back, we need human touch “almost as much as we need air to breath,” as the movie puts it. What would it be like not to be able to hug your family or friends? That’s the reality for Stella and Will.

Worldview/Application

If you had a chronic condition and knew you could die at any time, how would you live differently?

Stella and Will approach this question differently. She wants to follow the drug regiment perfectly, holding out hope for a cure. He is just the opposite and often skips doses. But neither is living life with the right balance. One thinks only about medicine. The other is careless about his life.

Finally, Stella sees the error in her ways: “This whole time I’ve been living for my treatments instead of doing my treatments so that I can live. I want to live.” Perhaps we should ask: Are we living life with joy? Or are we so busy that we’ve forgotten God’s many blessings and the simple pleasures of life?

The movie also encourages us not to fear death. Faith isn’t mentioned, but Stella believes in an afterlife. Will does not.

“I refuse to believe” there is no afterlife, she says.

As Christians, we can have the boldness to face death without fear (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Discussion Questions

  1. Are you more like Stella or Will? Why?
  2. If you had only a few weeks to live, how would you live differently than you are now? Why aren’t you living that way right now?
  3. Why is human touch so important? How is it different from mere words?

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material.