Movie review: The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of Everything covers the life of renown physicist Stephen Hawking from his graduate schools day—when he met his first wife—to his meeting with the Queen and him subsequently declining a knighthood (yes, really). The movie is based on a revised book that his first wife wrote.

The Theory of Everything shows the incredibly hardships that Hawking went through as ALS ravaged his body. He was diagnosed at the age of 21, while working on his Ph.D. He was given 2 years to live. (Clearly, he defied the odds, living into his 70s.) By the time of his diagnosis, he had already met his first wife, Jane, and the two married—despite the physical deterioration and short life awaiting him.

The movie depicts not only the hardships that Stephen went through but also the hardships that Jane endured. In the early years, there was little help with Jane shouldering all the care, even after several children arrived. His father urged Stephen to get help in the form of an in-house nurse. Jane beseeched him for help too.

First, a savior in the form of a church choir director arrived. Jane had joined the church choir at the suggestion of her mother. Although she had no time, clearly she needed something other than caring for her children and her husband 24/7. Jonathan Jones entered the picture as a companion and helper to the family—teaching piano, caring for Stephen, and becoming almost a surrogate father to the children.

Suspicions arose that he was actually the father of baby number three, an allegation that Jane vehemently denied. Jonathan disappeared from the family and Jane was left trying to soldier on alone.

Enter the nurse. Elaine Mason shows up to help Stephen learn to communicate with letter boards. (He lost all remaining power of speech following an emergency tracheotomy). In time their relationship became much more. Somewhat glossed over in the movie, Stephen ended up leaving Jane for Elaine in 1990. Not covered in the movie, in 1995, they divorced and Stephen married Elaine. (This marriage ended in divorce ten years later.)

The acting is superb. I marvel at Eddie Redmayne’s physical transformation into a man who inhabits a body that he cannot control. He contorts body and face into that of a man battling ALS. The scenery around Cambridge and the English countryside—I am not sure where the movie was filmed—is stunning. In some scenes of Cambridge, I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter.

The movie touches on some of Hawking’s theories and books, such as Hawking’s views on black holes, the beginning of the universe, the disappearance of black holes (Hawking radiation), and time.

The title of the movie is a nod his “beliefs”. A devout atheist (married to a devout Christian), his entire life has been the search for “one single unifying question that explains everything in the universe.” In a refreshing change from so many people who stick to long-held beliefs, he revises any theories if he discovers that the theories no longer hold up.

At times, The Theory of Everything is a hard watch. At other times, it is inspiring. In the end, like his theory, it is incomplete. The movie leaves out the last two decades. What happened in his life? What happened to his theories? That, dear reader, is up to you to find out on your own.

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