What fans with OCD, anxiety are saying about John Green's latest movie, 'Turtles All the Way Down'

Left: "Turtles All The Way Down" written on an orange background. Right: Isabela Merced and Cree in a still from the Max film "Turtles All The Way Down."

John Green, who you may know as the author of beloved books like “Looking for Alaska” or “The Fault in Our Stars,” is no stranger to seeing his literary works adapted to the screen.

“Stars” came first — with a film adaptation in 2014, and “Alaska” got her own mini-series on Hulu in 2019. Between these two major releases (of which Green played only a small part, he often recounts), the author released his latest novel: “Turtles All the Way Down” in 2017.

The book follows 16-year-old Aza in a classic Green conundrum, as she explores an exciting mystery, while also investigating the turmoil of her inner world. 

The book "Turtles All The Way Down" sits next to a brown backpack in a sunny, grassy clearing
Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House

It’s an especially meaningful story to Green, one that helped the author process his own mental health struggles, particularly with anxiety and Obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

And now, with a movie release — starring Isabela Merced — slated for May 2 on Max, fans are celebrating the story’s most hard-shelled layers, too.

This came to a head this weekend, as 1,400 folks attended a special screening of “Turtles” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

“Today I got to watch the Turtles All the Way Down movie with the cast, director, and 1,400 lovely people,” Green tweeted this weekend.

“It was the experience of a lifetime. If you were there, let me know what you thought. I am overwhelmed. Haven't stopped crying all evening.”

John Green takes a selfie at the "Turtles All The Way Down" movie screening, his face in shock
Photo courtesy of John Green/Instagram

Of those audience members, a myriad of fans have already shared their thoughts on the film. 

“I've always struggled with thought spirals, and for the longest time I'd think it’s in my head & I should just be able to control it,” one fan and screening viewer, Alta, tweeted on Sunday.

“This film has made me feel so much less alone and comforted in a way that I’ve never felt because of how inherently isolating [and] internal spirals are.”

If it wasn’t already clear, “Turtles” spends a lot of time taking viewers on a journey through the main character’s own “thought spirals.”  These are depicted in the film’s trailer through repetitive language, imagery of microorganisms and bacteria, and even glimpses into Aza’s therapy sessions.

For the estimated one in every 50 adults in the U.S. who live with OCD — and the 31% of American adults who live with some type of anxiety disorder — the film aims to be reflective, if not restorative.

Young, female viewers especially seem to be resonating with its themes — even more so if they came into the movie-watching experience already a fan of Green’s book.

“John, ‘Turtles’ opened my eyes to OCD long before I was diagnosed myself,” one fan wrote to the author on X (formerly Twitter) this weekend. “Can’t thank you enough for putting it out into the world.”

But transferring a book filled with internal monologues to the screen is no simple task. And fans were nervous about the movie’s potential to either trigger their own anxiety, or botch the sensitive themes presented in the source material.

The film’s director, Hannah Marks, was just 23 when she pitched the adaptation to the powers that be. With a strong connection to Aza’s story, she has spent the past seven years working to make the story sing on screen.

Isabela Merced, Felix Mallard, John Green, Cree, and Hannah Marks
From Left to Right: Isabela Merced, Felix Mallard, John Green, Cree, and Hannah Marks. Photo courtesy of Sela Shiloni/Max

“I had never read something that felt so honest and raw about OCD or anxiety,” Marks told Vanity Fair. “I have very similar issues to Aza, so I connected with her deeply.”

Green was taken by how Marks was able to visually portray the OCD experience.

“She found a way to capture the richness and fullness of this person’s life and their relationships, but at the same time how the illness pulls you out of that, and makes every aspect of that so challenging,” Green told Vanity Fair.

“It’s the best portrayal of OCD, as I experience it, that I’ve ever seen in a movie,” he added last week in a YouTube video.

And he isn’t the only one who is impressed.

“How wonderful to see a book that made me feel so seen translated into a movie that made me feel so seen all over again,” viewer Rachel wrote on X. “The ending made me feel such overwhelming, heart-wrenching hope.”

For some viewers, hope isn’t just a feeling following a good movie — but a lifeline.

A selfie of John Green and a fan
Photo courtesy of Kimmy Reinhardt

Kimmy Reinhardt had been a fan of Green’s books for most of her life, and when she was struggling with her mental health in 2017, faced suicidal ideation. She made a deal with herself: Stay alive to read Green’s new book. It gave her a reason to keep going.

“When I picked up ‘Turtles,’ it was a story of someone like me, who lived in a brain like mine, and was scared of being able to survive as an adult… I finally felt seen,” Reinhardt told Good Good Good. 

“The anxiety and OCD I felt alone in seven years ago was actually a way for me to connect and change people’s lives.”

Reading the book helped her find a therapist and medications — and embrace the uncertainty of the future.

Since then, she delved further into Green’s fan community, made friends, and even got a tattoo to represent the significance of the story in her own journey.

“This movie was always destined to be important to my life,” she said. “I think the movie did a fantastic job showing the mental health topics, while keeping the funny moments funny. For once, I saw myself represented in a movie, and the whole time I watched it, I was thinking [about] how happy I am to still be alive.”

Turtles All the Way Down” will be available exclusively to stream on Max on May 2, 2024.

We know that when you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be hard to find the help, support, and community you need. 

If you are in immediate need of safety, please contact the following:

Emergency Medical Services
911

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
suicidepreventionlifeline.org
988

Crisis Text Line
Text CRISIS to 741-741
crisistextline.org

And if you are not in immediate crisis and would still like access to more resources, visit our list of Mental Health Resources for more information.

Header images courtesy of Max

Article Details

April 23, 2024 10:44 AM
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