Over the past few years, there has been an increase in literature and movies alike which revolve around the trials and tribulations of those unfortunately inflicted with a certain disease. There was John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, Jodi Picoult’s ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ and Nicholas Spark’s ‘A Walk to Remember’ all depicting the bittersweet love stories of two youths faced with the horrible truth of a life-threatening disease. The thing is, even if movies like these tend to show a dramatized portrayal of certain diseases, one still cannot deny the fact that there are those who are burdened by these actual illnesses all over the world every day. Cancer is real, kidney-failure is real and so is cystic fibrosis regardless of how these novels or movies add in a dash of teenage romance for greater audience appeal.
‘Five Feet Apart’ is a movie that was inspired by a CF’er (cystic fibrosis patient) and YouTuber named Claire Wineland. Claire, after waking up from a medically-induced coma, founded her own foundation which provides both emotional support and financial support for other CF’ers and their family. She also became a TEDx speaker and operated her own YouTube account where, apart from making people more aware of cystic fibrosis, also showed her daily life living with CF which is not simply being bed-ridden all the time. Eventually, she crossed paths with American actor and director Justin Baldoni when the latter was directing a documentary about CF. The two struck a friendship which resulted in ‘Five Feet Apart’, a movie that showed the love story between two CF’ers, and ultimately the movie was dedicated to her when she passed away 6 months before the movie was released in March of 2019.
The movie opens with a voice-over by leading lady Stella Grant (played by Haley Lu Richardson) talking about the importance of touch especially between two lovers. Her voice-over ends just as a shot of a boy’s back appears on screen and we, the viewers, are then shown Stella with her friends talking about a trip that Stella had initially planned for all of them to go. Although reassuring them that she still wants them to have fun, after they leave, we can see the sadness in Stella’s face in not being able to go with them and in generally not being able to do a lot of things a teenager should due to her illness—cystic fibrosis.
The movie then goes on into showing her daily routines as a CF’er which includes her nurse and friend Barbara (played by Kimberly Hébert Gregory) allowing her to visit the hospital nursery since Stella adores babies. This may also symbolize the fact that Stella only ever wishes a continuous healthy life to those ill-free. We are also introduced to her best friend and fellow CF’er Poe (played by Moisés Arias) who is one of the few able to truly know and understand Stella. Not too long after, another CF’er named Will (played by Cole Sprouse) ends up in the same hospital as Stella but two start off on the wrong foot. Irked by his lack of care and regard for keeping up with his CF regimen including the vital six feet apart rule all CF’ers must follow to avoid cross-infections, Stella finds herself visiting Will more and more just to make sure he sticks with the rules. Will, also budding cartoonist, promises to do as Stella wants if she allows him to sketch her. She agrees, albeit hesitantly, but the two eventually develop feelings for one another and ends up secretly dating. She also learns to loosen up and makes an exception with disregarding that one feet of the six feet rule whenever she’s with Will which is her way of finally showing that she is not going to let her disease dictate how she lives.
All things seem to go well, until Poe dies and Stella is forced to face the truth once again on how people like her can die anytime soon. She pushes Will away momentarily but the two later makeup and end up holding hands completely disregarding the six feet rule (although Stella defends the act by saying how both are wearing gloves anyways). Another tragedy happens when Will learns that the drug trial he is on is not working and is forced to face the reality that he may die soon. After Stella has a successful lung transplant, he visits her one last time and informs Stella of his condition. He then tells her how they have to part ways as he does not want her to go through another CF-related death with him and asks her to close her eyes as he walks away to make things less painful. After he leaves, Stella is handed Will’s sketchbook revealing how, despite only ever drawing cartoons, he ended up making life-like sketches of her.
The film closes with the audience hearing Stella’s voice-over from the start all-over again and we come to realize that she was making a YouTube video all along. The final shot is of the back of the boy who turns around smiling and is revealed to be Will. Stella closes off the movie with, “We need that touch from the one we love almost as much as we need air to breathe but I never understood the importance of touch. His touch. Until I couldn’t have it. So if you’re watching this, and you’re able, touch him. Touch her. Life’s too short to waste a second.” And if there is anything all of us, sick or not, can take from this, it is exactly how life is too short to live in hesitancies.