Reel Life: Paper Towns & The Real Cost of Selfishness

Release Date: July 24, 2015.

Cast:  Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair. 

IMDB Synopsis: Adapted from the bestselling novel by author John Green, PAPER TOWNS is a coming-of-age story centering on Quentin and his enigmatic neighbor Margo, who loved mysteries so much she became one. After taking him on an all-night adventure through their hometown, Margo suddenly disappears – leaving behind cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher. The search leads Quentin and his quick-witted friends on an exhilarating adventure that is equal parts hilarious and moving. Ultimately, to track down Margo, Quentin must find a deeper understanding of true friendship – and true love.

Paper Towns

This is my second film adaptation of one of John Green’s Young Adult novels. And, unlike the case with The Fault in Our Stars, I did not leave this movie in tears. I left this movie angry. You see, I had serious issues with the main female character: Margo. Not only with the lack of parental guidance and… ahem…presence in her life, but I mostly took issue with her blatant selfishness and disregard for the feelings of others.

Now, Margo seems like an interesting, intelligent, beautiful young woman, and she is. However, she consistently uses and disregards the feelings of the people around her. For example, she doesn’t talk or acknowledge Quentin’s existence for NINE YEARS! They run in different social circles, and the only thing that keeps the two connected are childhood memories and the fact that they are neighbors. However, one night, when Margo discovers that her friends and her boyfriend have lied and betrayed her, who does she come to: Quentin. She uses his car and his emotional support to help her in a creatively crafted (and humorous) revenge plot.

But the day after, Margo’s gone, and all that is left behind are a series of “clues” for Quentin to use to find her. Through the encouragement of his friends, he links together the haphazard pieces and heads on a road trip to find the girl of his dreams. But, reality turns out to be much different, and when he finds Margo, he discovers that she had no intention of being found, wooed, or loved. She just wanted to be free.

Paper Towns 2

There’s nothing wrong with freedom. But, sometimes what we think is freedom is really just plain old selfishness.

Selfishness is a troubling trait. Left unchecked, it leads people to lives of carelessness and sometimes blatant cruelty. Individuals become so wrapped up in their wants and their needs, that they forsake the feelings and needs of others. In fact, the word “others” becomes a foreign one in their vocabulary.

Just because we have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that we are “right” in doing it. I often forget this on my quest to live an open-hearted and honest life! Therein lies the difference between freedom and selfishness, in my opinion. Selfishness is all about our rights, our needs, our wants, and our justifications. While freedom, true freedom, looks for the greater truth and the greater good in all things.

Quentin, for all intents and purposes, is a really good guy. Kind-hearted, smart, honest, and honorable, and he has been “in love” with Margo since she moved in across the street from him when they were children.  She is not stupid; she knows that he cares for her, and she uses that when she needs it. She doesn’t value him or her other friend Lacey the way they deserve. Her behavior made me mad!

But, as I kept thinking about it, I grew less mad and more sad because I came across the true cost of selfishness: real relationships.

You see, while Quentin and Lacey were hurt by Margo, they will recover. They will grow up and make true friends, who love them and value them and treat them the way they deserve to be treated. Margo, on the other hand, will always be alone. Her selfish behavior may help her “find herself” and discover what she likes, who she is, and what she’s good at, but it will also fortify her heart and keep her from knowing others and being known by them.

She will always be running. She will always be leaving clues. She will always only be a figment of people’s memories. Ultimately, she will always be alone.

Selfishness is a trait that is designed to keep us safe. We look out for ourselves. We do what we want. We live how we like. We get what we need, and we move on. But, this trait also destroys us. Selfishness limits us. It fences us in.

The very things that we do to get ahead and to get all the things we think we need, are the very things that make us miss out on the best things life has to offer.

Ultimately, selfishness costs us more than we would ever gain in the end.


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