Film Reviews

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

By • Nov 19th, 2014 •

Share This:

A sweet fairy tale of the marriage between a living legend and anti-God “saint” and the wife who attended to his every need. A nice whitewash. It’s not a warts-and-all objective film.

I am always suspicious of films based on living persons who were intimately involved in the telling of their story. Perhaps GET IT UP would not have been as mesmerizing if James Brown had been alive to demand a more saintly depiction of his life.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is based on Jane Hawking’s Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen (2008), which is a heavily revised version (with new material) of her 1999 memoir Music to Move the Stars. The film begins with 20 year-old Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) at Cambridge University working on a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. When we first hear Stephen speak, he is explaining to wide-eyed Jane (Felicity Jones) why he is an atheist. He is already recognized as a genius and great things lay before him.

“Theoretical Physics.” I do not know anything about it. However, being “theoretical” must mean it is a theory that could be possible and there is a mathematical formula that explains it in an elegant manner. It’s up to a physicist’s peers to disprove it. If they cannot disprove the theory, it stands. It’s as solid as believing in Marian sightings.

But something unexpected happens to Stephen. He is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The doctor tells Hawking he has at best two years left. He will become entirely paralyzed. He will lose the ability to speak. Jane declares her love and they marry. They eventually have three children in their long marriage. Hawking writes a best-selling book and gets a faculty position at Cambridge.

The film does not shy away from Hawking’s hawk-like statement that “God did not create the Universe.” Hawking does not believe in God because if he did, he would have to accept that God decided he should live his life without moving, without talking, and with constant 24-hour nursing care. He did not get ALS from his parents. His siblings did not have the disease. His children did not inherit the genes for the disease from him. If he believed in one of the three “Abrahamic religions” (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), he would have to admit it was the plan of God. If he believed in Hinduism or the New Age theory of reincarnation, he would have to accept that he is paying for his sins from a past life.

Hawking branded the existence of an afterlife as “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark”, and claimed: “There is no God. No one created our universe, and no one directs our faith.”

As a recognized brilliant physicist, people listen to Stephen Hawking, so he is using his genius stamp to tell the world believing in a Supreme Being is not only nonsense, its scientifically impossible. I understand his reasoning. If there is a God, He sure played a cruel joke on Hawking. Why him? Hawking has a right to be bitter and resentful to the idea of God.

According to THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, Hawking never had one moment of anger towards his life. He was always sweet and kind.

According to Music to Move the Stars the Hawkings’ marriage had been strained for many years. Jane felt overwhelmed by the intrusion into their family life of the required nurses and assistants, who conveyed – before speech machines – every moan or whispered guttural noise as proclamations from the esteemed professor. The impact of his immense celebrity was challenging for colleagues and family members, and in one interview Jane described her role as “simply to tell him that he’s not God.”

In her book, Jane revealed that Stephen became remote and impossible, an ‘all-powerful emperor’ and a ‘masterly puppeteer’, making a good deal of their life together a misery. I did not see anything like this in the film. He is an angelic being thinking big thoughts to help mankind find its place in the Universe.

Jane finds solace with Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox), who led her church’s choir. He became an intimate part of the Hawking entourage after the birth of the Hawking’s third child. Jane eventually has an affair with Jonathan. In fact, it was reported in the UK press that Jane “installed” Jonathan in a room in the apartment she shared with Hawking. Wouldn’t that have been a great scene for Redmayne? Doesn’t every Academy Award for Best Actor need a riveting scene like that?

Both Jane Hawking and Stephen Hawking visited the production and were involved in the making of the film. So, were some subjects off-limits? Would the facts have ruined a romantic love story involving a revered genius with ALS?
Jane ends her relationship with Jonathan as rumors of an affair surface. It is Stephen who goes rogue.

Finally agreeing to get some help with Stephen – instead of getting a housekeeper and nanny – Jane hires Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), a fiery nurse who quickly uses her seductive personality to install herself as the most important person in Stephen’s life. He described his relationship with Mason – whom he married in 1995 and divorced 12 years later – as “passionate and tempestuous”.

Stephen’s marriage to Elaine produced some bizarre, sexually-tainted headlines that would have made a completely different kind of film.

The screenplay by Anthony McCarten is a neat romantic tale following the rules by which biographical films of living people highlight the good and ignore the bad behavior of the protagonists. Elaine makes Stephen laugh! She was just what he needed! And since it was Jane Hawking’s book that was used as the source material, Jane is a self-sacrificing mate, totally devoted to her husband.

Director James Marsh has made an enchanting ode to a living legend. There is not one moment where Stephen is demanding, angry, self-important or arrogant about being the smartest person in the room.

Redmayne’s transformation is astonishing and you can see how much work and dedication he gave to the role. It is a challenging role and he deserves recognition for his portrayal, but why not one furious burst of anger by a very complex man?

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at masauu@aol.com

Tagged as: , , , , , , , ,
Share This Article: Digg it | del.icio.us | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)