I don’t normally do two posts in a row about movies, however, what a joy this week, as my journey included two movies that deeply impacted me. Tonight I watched movie number three among the eight nominated for Best Picture…The Theory of Everything.
This biographical drama/romance stars Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Harry Lloyd, David Thewlis, Charlie Cox and Maxine Peake. The movie was directed by James Marsh and is based on the book, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” by Jane Hawking. It is rated PG-13, for thematic elements and has a run time of 2 hours and 4 minutes. The Theory of Everything was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Musical Score, Best Actress for Jones and Best Actor for Redmayne. Eddie Redmayne won the film’s only Oscar.
The Theory of Everything is the story of one of the most amazing and well known physicists of our time, Stephen Hawking (Redmayne). A student at Cambridge, Stephen is considered brilliant, but he is unsure what to pursue as his thesis. He meets Jane Wilde (Jones), an art student at Cambridge, and the two begin a relationship, shyly at first, and then with more passion as they get to know each other. And then, just as it seems life is beginning for the young couple, Stephen is told he only has two years to live. Doctors diagnose his muscle weakness as a motor neuron disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the American baseball player who died from the illness.
Stephen is shattered and withdraws. However, Jane refuses to walk away. She tells Stephen that she loves him, and no matter how short their remaining time, she wants to spend it together. Embracing life again, Stephen decides what his course of study will be…time…the thing which is so precious to him now. The couple marries, and in spite of his prognosis, Stephen does not die. His body continues to decline as his muscles weaken, but his mind is as sharp and questioning as ever, his spirit undeterred. As children are born into the family, two sons and a daughter, Hawking breaks new ground in science as he searches for a theory that would explain everything…about time, about the universe, about the birth of the universe and time.
As those two years turn into many years, Stephen must rely on a wheelchair for mobility and his wife for his daily care. He begins receiving recognition for his work and awards, while Jane just longs for a normal life, or at the least, help in managing her husband’s growing health needs and a lively family. Needing to get out of the house occasionally, Jane joins the church choir, and meets Jonathan (Cox), a recent widower. He offers to help the family by taking on some of the care for Stephen, spending much time with the Hawkings. Eventually, he and Jane recognize that they have feelings for each other, but agree to back off of the relationship when Stephen ends up in a coma in the hospital.
The actors with Stephen Hawking
The doctor urges Jane to let Stephen go, but she fights for him, as she has all her adult life. To save his life, a tracheotomy is performed, making it easier for Stephen to breathe and silencing his voice for the rest of his life. A new live in nurse, Elaine (Peake) arrives to help care for Stephen, encouraging him to speak using an alphabet board at first, and then a computer program that translates typing into spoken words. The distinct mechanical voice with an American accent, all that was available at the time, has become one of Hawking’s trademarks and he continues using the same voice today.
Stephen begins his book, A Brief History of Time, as his relationship with Jane draws to an end. He releases her to be with Jonathan, while he moves out and later marries his nurse, Elaine. The movie concludes with Stephen meeting the Queen of England and for his escort for that honor, he asks Jane to join him. As they watch their children in the royal gardens, Stephen remarks to Jane, “Look what we made.” She says the day has been extraordinary, and then amends her words to say to Stephen that all their shared life has been extraordinary. When they were dating, Stephen said to Jane, “What if I reverse time to see what happened at the beginning of time?”. Jane answers, “Wind back the clock?” The movie closes with the clock rewinding….from the shared moment in the garden, back through their marriage, the births of their children, their wedding day, their courtship, the evening they attended the dance, the first time they saw each other across a crowded room. Back….to their beginning in time.
I was so impacted by this movie that I find it difficult to share the depth of feeling associated with it. It wasn’t just one element of the film, which is the story of two very real people, it was many things. I knew Stephen was going to be affected by an incurable disease and yet I winced as I saw the onset of symptoms. I watched most of this film with a heaviness in my chest and a feeling of constriction in my throat. I can’t quite explain that yet. My eyes teared up many, many times. In spite of the seeming unfairness of life, Stephen never lost himself even as his body became almost useless. He smiled so often. Even when he couldn’t speak, his eyes, his smile, his wriggling eyebrows conveyed a joy that couldn’t be dimmed by disease.
Most of all, I hurt for the relationship that sustained them both through challenging years and then came to an end, with tears from both of them. It wasn’t that they didn’t love each other any longer, rather, they released each other to live different lives. Perhaps, that was the greatest act of love they could offer to each other. According to information I found online, after the movie, Stephen is divorced from the nurse he married in 1995 and has a close relationship with Jane, his children and grandchildren.
Near the end of the movie, Hawking shares these words with an audience: “There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.” I am tonight, filled with hope.
The Hawking Family