The theory of everything

Graham Clements
“The Theory of Everything” is an award-winning film about Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking is one of the world’s most-known scientists. He is also well known because he has motor neuron disease. The movie is based on a book written by his first wife Jane Wilde Hawking. The movie does not sensationalise his disability. Instead, it shows him and his wife facing life’s frustrations with optimism. Eddie Redmayne convincingly portrays Hawking. Redmayne and the movie have been nominated for a number of Academy Awards. It is a movie for those who enjoy entertaining biographical dramas.
Posted by: 
Graham Clements on 09/02/2015
Movie poster with actors playing Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde Hawking.
Movie poster A Theory of Everything

A quality biographical drama. 

“The Theory of Everything” is a new film about scientist Stephen Hawking. Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He is one of the world’s intellectual giants. He is a great communicator on how the universe works. One of his science books, ‘A Brief History of Time’, sold millions. His use of an electric wheelchair and electronic speaking device also makes him one of the most recognisable people on the planet.

The movie is an adaption of a memoir written by his first wife, Jane Wilde Hawking. It mainly covers the period of their marriage. The film begins in1963. The opening scenes show Hawking and a fellow student recklessly riding bikes on cobblestoned streets. The movie then moves to a party where he meets Jane for the first time. He tells her that his goal in life is to create a single universal equation for all existence. These scenes contrast with the constraints his disease will soon place on his life.

Diagnosed with motor neuron disease

Hawking is shown clumsily dropping pens and knocking over coffee cups. One day he falls, hitting his head. Doctors diagnose him with motor neuron disease. It is a degenerative disease that affects the body’s motor skills. Hawking is relieved when told that it won’t affect his brain. But while his mind will be fine, he will progressively lose control of his body. He is also told he only has about two years to live. Initially Hawking wants to give up, but Jane and his friends will not let him.  

Jane and Stephen marry

Jane is a church-goer, while Hawking is an atheist who believes scientific reason discounts the existence of gods. Jane studied languages, he studied science. Despite his diagnosis and their differences, they begin a relationship. Jane’s parents advise her not to marry him, but she ignores them and Hawking is accepted into their family.

Even though the movie is based on Jane’s memoir, it leaves a number of questions about their relationship dangling. Did she marry him purely out of love? Or did a sense of Christian duty lead her to want to be part of the last couple of years of his life?  In an interview with the ‘Observer’, Jane said she quickly expected to become a widow, but she did not want to think about that at the time.

Movie does not dwell on disability issues

Other than Hawking’s frequent problems using stairs during the film, there are few hints of discrimination against him and his disability. The film has few scenes of him accessing medical treatment, and no explanation is given for his long life. The film is more about the strength of his relationships with others while his body slowly declines.    

Physical intimacy is lacking between Hawking and his wife during the movie. Jane says in her memoir that the absence of physical intimacy was "a deep hole in my own life". But they still had three children, although there were questions about the father of the third.

The movie is told in a low-key and unsentimental manner. It does not overplay Hawking’s disability or seek our sympathy. It does not attempt to show him as an inspiration. Instead, it shows him and his wife optimistically getting on with life and all its frustrations. It shows Hawking becoming the brilliant scientist he is, while his degenerative disease causes him and those around him to adapt.  

Acting is convincing

Eddie Redmayne is totally convincing as Hawking. He obviously observed Hawking very closely to capture all his mannerisms. Occasionally his dialogue is difficult to understand, but this succeeds in showing how difficult Hawking found it to communicate. Hawking has seen the film and said that at times he thought he was watching himself. Redmayne won a Golden Globe for his portrayal and has been nominated for an Academy Award.  

Felicity Jones plays Jane Wilde Hawking as a stoic and determined woman. Her performance is full of compassion, but not so much passion. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe, did not win, but may have better luck with her Academy Award nomination.

James Marsh directed the film. Anthony McCarten wrote the screenplay and he too has been nominated for an Academy Award. The movie has also been nominated for Best Picture.

A film for everyone

“The Theory of Everything” is a movie for anyone who likes quality biographical dramas. Knowledge of Hawking or the science behind his theories is not required to enjoy the movie. Even though it is an unsentimental account of his life, it may bring a tear to the eye.


Readers comments (1)

Nice review. I agree. It is a great performance by Eddie and an unsentimental view of his life without dwelling on the scientific - yet remains to be emotional. Very difficult balance to pull off. Shows how good it actually is as a film.

Comment on this article