The Theory of Everything: Stephen Hawking biopic is immensely moving

Love triumphs in the face of adversity

Film review “I think I just used science to trick you into watching a movie about feelings!” I apologised to my fellow science-loving film-goer after leaving The Theory of Everything. Although, to be fair, the posters make it clear that this is not the big screen depiction of Stephen Hawking writing A Brief History of Time, this is the true tale of Hawking and his partner Jane, and it turns out to be a delicate and unusual love story.

Harry Lloyd and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

It’s impossible not to be deeply moved from the instant this film opens on Hawking, played magnificently by Eddie Redmayne, racing his mate on bicycles to a college party at Cambridge. We all know what’s coming – at the horrifically young age of 21, he will be diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and told he has just a few years to live. Every early moment of the film is resonant with future echoes of this event, as Redmayne subtly portrays the onset of the disease with ever-so-slightly shaky handwriting, hints of a lurching step in his walk and isolated moments of clumsiness.

Under this shadow, Stephen meets Jane Wilde (played by an equally enthralling Felicity Jones) and begins a slightly awkward and endearing courtship. As is so often the case with anything to do with scientists in the movies, Hawking is set up as the nerd underdog with barely a chance at the girl. Jane’s friend proclaims in disgusted tones; “Scientists! Don’t worry. We don’t have to stay long. Looks mortifyingly dull”, as they enter that opening party, where Jane and Stephen nonetheless catch each other’s eye.

But thankfully, this film doesn’t leave Stephen as the misguided geek and Jane as the confident socialite. This relationship is awkward the way all relationships are when they start off, with ill-timed comments and misunderstandings up until Stephen and Jane attend the May Ball and slip into a montage of happy young love against a backdrop of fireworks and a tender first kiss.

All too shortly afterwards, as in real life, Stephen receives his diagnosis and has his whole world torn asunder. The devastation of the event is acutely delivered in the scene where he tells his friend Brian (Harry Lloyd), who’s expecting to hear the tale of a routine fix at the doctor’s and instead is left shell-shocked and speechless by a diagnosis that gives Stephen just two years to live.

Although he makes an effort to break things off with Jane, neither of them is able to let go after she tells him that she wants them to be together, for as long as they’ve got. The real Stephen Hawking later said that their engagement in October 1964 gave him something to live for, and they were married the following year.

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Of course, if you’re familiar with the history of Hawking, you’ll know that his marriage to Jane doesn’t last forever and this is what makes The Theory of Everything such an unusual love story. In a way, it’s also the story of how Hawking’s disease and his celebrity combined to make it incredibly difficult for Jane, who was left to carry all the responsibility of their growing family alone while caring for him.

But, unlike most movies that tell the tale of the breakdown of a marriage, the later circumstances of life that cause them to end their relationship never seem to detract from the relationship they first had or the depth of feeling they clearly still have for each other, even when they no longer want to stay together.

Both Jane and Stephen are shown with their subsequent spouses, developing feelings for these other people during the time that they’re together, but never in a way that’s intended to hurt each other. Indeed, Jane’s relationship with Jonathan Hellyer Jones began in the late 1970s, but remained platonic for many years because they hoped to avoid breaking up the family. Eventually, it is Stephen who ends the marriage in the 1990s, after becoming close to one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, who would become his second wife.

Threaded throughout this extraordinary love-conquers-all type story of Stephen Hawking defeating his two-year diagnosis by over 50 years, is the story of Stephen the scientist. It’s doubtful that any scientist is going to be pleased with the amount of screen time devoted to physics – it’s clear that this is a movie aimed at a lay person – but what does come through is Hawking’s commitment. In a way, his disease allows him a devotion to his career that would have been difficult for anyone else, even while it hinders his ability to communicate his thoughts and discoveries.

If you’re looking for a scientific documentary about a theoretical physicist, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’d like to see a movie that runs the gamut of human emotion with a riveting sincerity and not a single moment of maudlin schmaltz or manufactured feeling, this is the film for you. The fact that it’s also the real story of one of the intellectual titans of our times only makes it that much more moving. ®

Youtube Video

The Theory of Everything posterTitle The Theory of Everything
Director James Marsh
Cast Charlie Cox, Harry Lloyd, Felicity Jones, Simon McBurney, Eddie Redmayne, David Thewlis, Emily Watson
Release date 1 January 2015 (UK) / 9 October 2014 (US)
More info Movie web site

Don't miss The Register in conversation with the producer of The Theory of Everything here.

Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022