Is time real? If so, does it have an origin and an end point? Does God exist? Is it possible to define the nature of the Universe? Can love conquer all?
These are some of the questions that are asked and answered in the newly launched biopic about the brilliant and wickedly funny Professor Stephen Hawking, called The Theory of Everything. Adapted from the book written by the love of his life, and first wife, Jane Hawking, entitled “Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen”, the movie takes the viewer from Hawking’s days as an aspiring Ph.D. at Cambridge where he chooses to tackle the study of time, to the deterioration of his body from motor neurone disease/a.k.a. ALS. Possessing a ceaselessly driven mind, he attempts to reframe and make comprehensible the difference between physics and the Divine. Initially, he is convinced that God is not real and later, comes to question that assumption. With wit and wonder, Hawking makes science accessible. The motion picture makes him human and real to those who may only have seen him as a prolific writer and a genius of this era, rivaling Einstein.
When asked to define cosmology-his initial course of study, he tells Jane that it is “the marriage of space and time,” and her inspired reply is “the perfect couple.” Although they themselves, were not the perfect couple, Jane did her valiant best to champion his care, raise three children and engage in her own studies. At one point in the movie, she is shown feeling depleted and in need of something that is just for herself. Her mother suggests that she join her church choir. It is there that she meets a man whose own losses and wounds lead him to join their circle and help in caring for Stephen. The relationship between the three of them is beautiful to behold; even if it was complicated and raised eyebrows among their family members.
The movie is equal parts love story, theoretical exploration and a triumph of the human spirit over medical prognosis. With the initial diagnosis at age 21, he outlived the prediction of two years by five decades, as this father of three and grandfather of three is now 72 and is still going strong. Attribute that to the variability of the disease, personal determination, the care he has been given and the devotion of the people in his life; most especially Jane who had been his caregiver for many of those interceding decades. The couple is no longer together and Jane has since remarried, as had Stephen. He is now divorced from his second wife who had come into his life as a nurse and in 2006, when the marriage ended, there were allegations that she had abused him. That aspect is not revealed in the film.
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones play Stephen and Jane with a sense of authenticity that came from intensely studying their real life counterparts. For Redmayne in particular, the task of playing the character whose progressive disease called for change in voice and movement throughout each day of shooting footage, sometimes going from being ambulatory to wheelchair confinement and back several times was, I imagine, exhausting. Jones’ Jane Hawking is a powerful female character at a time when women weren’t expected to take charge and have needs and desires that went beyond marriage and family responsibilities. Because the story is from her perspective, she is nakedly honest about the dynamics in their family. This movie has Academy Award written all over it.
As the disease progressed, Hawking faced the reality that in order to save his life, he would need to lose his voice that had allowed him to communicate his profound and humorous thoughts. Daunting was the task of learning to blink out and then type out words and now leaning with his cheek against a communication device, broadcast the mental musings. A laughable scene in the movie comes when he is using the device for the first time and the robotic words pour forth in an unexpected way. Jane sounds dismayed as she comments on the accent: “It’s American,” to which the inventor replies “Is that a problem?” To this day, the vocal soundings remain so.
As a writer, I am a keen observer of symbolism. I lost count of the number of circles that show up in various scenes. See if you notice them. It makes sense given Hawking’s focus on time and his desire to wind it back. An interesting irony is that he defied all predictions of time by far outliving expectations of how much he would be granted.
Although I am neither mathematically nor scientifically minded, I found myself fascinated by his theories and the ways in which he communicated them. What if the Universe were indeed a boundless and limitless place? How would we live in the realm of infinite possibility? This film opens many doors for exploration.
“There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. However bad life may seem, where there is life, there is hope.” – Stephen Hawking~