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Kiss in the Anne Frank Attic: Did ‘Fault in Our Stars’ Go Too Far?

Image: Ansel Elgort, left, and Shailene Woodley appear in a scene from 'The Fault In Our Stars'

This image released by 20th Century Fox shows Ansel Elgort, left, and Shailene Woodley appear in a scene from "The Fault In Our Stars." James Bridges / 20th Century Fox via AP

First Justin Bieber elicited scorn for hoping Anne Frank would be a 'belieber,' then Beyonce was criticized for posting photos of herself from Frank's house in Amsterdam, and now box-office hit "The Fault in Our Stars" has left many scratching their heads for its use of the Holocaust landmark in a crucial kiss scene.

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The young-adult movie, based on John Green's 2012 book by the same name, shows cancer-stricken protagonist Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort) inside the Anne Frank House — on a recreated set in Pittsburgh — sharing their first kiss, after a frail Hazel manages to breathlessly climb the stairs to the attic. Tourists around them break into applause.

It was this juxtaposition of a couple sharing a deeply intimate moment with cheering strangers set against a solemn historic backdrop that rubbed most film reviewers the wrong way.

"The film may get away with using cancer to tug the heartstrings, but combining cancer and the Holocaust is at least one trigger too many,” wrote Andrew Barker of Variety.

Richard Corliss of Time calls the scene "where a Jewish girl’s descent into the Holocaust is straight-facedly compared to a teen’s cancer," "egregious."

"The whole episode feels almost drunk, it's so bad, but then it seems to be the curse of these YA adaptations, that the very in-built audience that guarantees a studio green light also seems to guarantee a timorous fidelity to every comma,” wrote Tom Shone of The Guardian.

BuzzFeed's Ariane Lange and another colleague engaged in a thorough debate on the topic last week, with Lange taking issue with the fact that the two characters don't discuss Frank or how she died while inside the museum. Instead, Frank's story becomes a backdrop, a metaphor for suffering.

"I don’t think that human suffering should be a metaphor,” Lange told NBC News, adding: "I don't think that being murdered is the same thing as dying of cancer."

The Anne Frank House, which was not involved in the production of the movie beyond giving the cast and writer a guided tour of the museum and allowing them to film outside by the entrance, had no issue with the scene in the context of the book.

"We have not seen the film, so we cannot express any opinion on it. In the book it is a moving and sensitively handled scene," Annemarie Bekker, a spokeswoman for the Anne Frank House, told NBC News in an email Wednesday.

Image: The Anne Frank House Museum at the Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam
The Anne Frank House Museum at the Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam - in the rear house the family of Anne & friends suvived hidden from 1942 - 1944 - before being deported. Johanna Hoelzl / Johanna Hoelzl/picture-alliance/dpa via AP file

The same scene in the novel reveals Hazel's thought process at the time, as she ponders the setting for the kiss just moments before she decides to give in. The prose captures that delicate key moment, a subtle note the movie arguably misses.

"'Augustus Waters,' I said, looking up at him, thinking that you cannot kiss anyone in the Anne Frank House, and then thinking that Anne Frank, after all, kissed someone in the Anne Frank House, and that she would probably like nothing more than for her home to have become a place where the young and irreparably broken sink into love."

Director Josh Boone told Variety the scene was crucial to the story, even though he knew no movie had ever been shot inside the house and that visitors aren’t permitted in Frank’s upstairs bedroom. "For us, there was no movie without it," he said.

Boone said he wasn't worried about backlash from the audience regarding the scene. “I didn't think at all it would offend anyone,” he told the magazine. “I was so not offended when I read the scene in the book. I hoped it would carry over and feel the same way.”

During the scene, a voiceover reads excerpts from Frank’s diary, but the characters are caught up in their own private moment and don't discuss her story.

Frank, a German-born Jewish girl born on June 12, 1929, who was forced into hiding during World War II to escape the Nazis’ persecution of Jews, perished in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. The diary she kept while in hiding has been translated into 70 languages.

The diary continues to have an enduring influence on young readers, and in "The Fault in Our Stars," Frank's story becomes a symbol for the suffering of the young through no fault of their own. The book and the movie seem to choose not to make Frank a focus because her story serves as a broader motif for having a meaningful, albeit short, life.

"She celebrated life and she celebrated hope."

Author Green suggested as much in a 2012 interview with The Portland Mercury.

"Anne Frank was a pretty good example of a young person who ended up having the kind of heroic arc that Augustus wants — she was remembered and she left this mark that he thinks is valuable — but when he has to confront her death, he has to confront the reality that really she was robbed of the opportunity to live or die for something," Green told the paper.

Echoing that stance, Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, told NBC News in a statement:

“Short of seeing it firsthand, it seems that the kissing scene in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ in the annex of the Anne Frank House is not offensive or against who Anne Frank was," his statement read. "What Anne communicated in her diary was hope.

"She celebrated life and she celebrated hope."