Before you watch Five Feet Apart, I suggest that you swap the popcorn for a box of tissue. The film tells the story of intense but painful love shared by a couple that must stay six feet away because they have cystic fibrosis (CF). CF is a genetic disease that causes lung infections and gradually reduces a patient’s ability to breathe.
No two CF patient’s infections are the same, and therefore, CF patients are encouraged to stay at least six feet away from each other to reduce the risk of cross infections. Stella and Will face the tragedy of having to stay six feet apart despite their feelings for each other.
Real-life cystic fibrosis patient Claire Wineland contributed massively to the film
Claire Wineland, a cystic fibrosis patient whose goal was to sensitize the world about CF, worked as a consultant on Five Feet Apart. Wineland met the film’s director, Justin Baldoni, on his documentary about people living with terminal illnesses titled My Last Days.
Wineland documented her life with CF and posted the videos on the internet. “I thought, ‘Hey, maybe that’s a good place for me to kinda try and humanize people who are sick, and to make them more three-dimensional, and talk about the things that don’t normally get talked about,” she said on Death Wish Coffee.
Claire and Justin developed a familial bond, and he started to inquire more about her life. He was particularly intrigued when he learned about the challenges people with cystic fibrosis face in their love lives.
Wineland told Baldoni that she didn’t have many friends with CF because she couldn’t bear watching them suffer. She also informed him that CF patients have to stay at least six feet apart. Justin told The Hollywood Reporter that a light bulb went on in his head:
“I’m a hopeless romantic and Romeo and Juliet was my favorite play of all time. I just thought how interesting that the one person that should be able to understand you more than anybody is the one person you have to stay away from. I told her, ‘This is a movie. Should we go do this?’”
Baldoni hired Wineland as a consultant, and she went to work adding realism to the story. “There was a lot of the movie that was inspired by the stories that she told,” Baldoni told Bustle. “I sent her pictures of the sets, and she freaked out and said, ‘Oh my god, it’s so real!’”
Wineland made it to the table read, but she couldn’t make it to the set. Unfortunately, she passed away due to lung transplant complications before Baldoni and his team finished editing. Baldoni dedicated Five Feet Apart to Wineland.
Five Feet Apart is not based on a true story but the real stories told by Claire Wineland. “It’s a made-up story, but it’s rooted in reality,” Baldoni told The Hollywood Reporter.
The Five Feet Apart story mimics the real-life story of a couple with CF
Per CBS Films, Five Feet Apart is not based on Katie and Dalton Prager’s love story. “The Five Feet Apart story and script is not based on them or their family,” CBS told CNN.
Despite CBS’ claim, it’s difficult to ignore the similarities between the Pragers’ love story and the story depicted in Five Feet Apart. However, there are several discrepancies as well.
For instance, Katie and Dalton met via Facebook and fell in love instantly. Stella and Will met in a hospital and gradually fell in love.
Against the advice of doctors, Katie met Dalton and kissed him immediately. She told People: “I knew there was a possibility that we would get sicker and something could happen. I just told Dalton I’d rather have somebody that I was totally in love with for five years, than be either lonely or not as happy with somebody for 20 years.”
Dalton, like Will, had b. cepacia – a bacteria non-responsive to antibiotics. It was therefore imperative that both stayed away from their love interests.
Katie and Dalton had several good years before cross infection caught up with them. They last saw each other on their anniversary in July 2014. “His love for her was like no other,” Dalton’s mother wrote on Facebook.
The pair got lung transplants, but they experienced complications that prevented them from seeing each other again. Katie and Dalton died within five days of each other. In Five Feet Apart, Stella survived, but Will passed away.
Claire Wineland’s mother, Melissa Yeager, opines that Claire incorporated the Pragers’ story in Five Feet Apart. Wineland followed their story and was rooting for successful surgeries for Katie and Dalton. “There’s a piece of their story in the movie,” Yeager told CNN.
Dave Prager, Dalton’s father, hopes that a part of Dalton’s story is featured in the film. “Dalton’s fear was that he’d be forgotten, so if the way the movie is telling this cystic fibrosis story, if it’s tied to Dalton in any way, that’s a blessing right there,” he told CNN.