19-25 December 2014 #737

The Theory of Everything

An inspiring and insightful life story about the revered Stephen Hawking's journey through ALS
Sophia Pande

It is extraordinarily hard to write a good script about a legend. This is why most people: producers, directors, and viewers approach “biopics” with a great deal of caution. After all, what can these films really teach us about Keats, or Moses (think the newest Christian Bale vehicle Exodus directed by Ridley Scott)?

So it was with great care that I approached The Theory of Everything, a film about the life of Stephen Hawking, the living, greatly revered physicist, diagnosed with ALS (a neurodegenerative disorder) when he was a budding but clearly brilliant student at Cambridge in the 1960s.

Most of us have heard of the The Brief History of Time a work that contextualised Hawking’s findings regarding the origin of time that would be explicable even to the layperson. While I may not have read it, I remember the excitement that accompanied its publication in 1988, two decades after Hawking was first diagnosed with his disease, at which point he had been given two years to live.

In this case, it is perhaps apt then, that the film concentrates on that rather trite saying that behind every great man there is a strong woman, for it is Jane Wilde Hawking (played by the lovely Felicity Jones), on whose memoirs the film is based. Jones is almost as compelling (if not more so) than Eddie Redmayne in his powerful performance as the valiant Hawking who slowly loses control of motor functions, bodily, as well as in speech, all the while retaining his brilliant brain.

From beginning to end, this film is a soul searching account of what it takes to love someone for their mind, even as their body deteriorates, becoming a shadow of itself; a tragedy leavened only by Hawking’s extraordinary will, and his ever present, self deprecating sense of humour.

Instead of maudlin sensationalism with the extraordinary and compassionate performances of Jones and Redmayne I felt that I came to an understanding of a real life couple who stood by each other in mind and in body as long as they could. Instead of drifting away from each other, in acrimony or resentment for perceived wasted years, they continued to remain friends, for their romantic relationship had always been based on a meeting of the minds (Jane had been a highly talented scholar herself, earning a Ph.D. in Literature while at Cambridge contemporaneously with Hawking).

This is a rare film that gives you an insight into the making of a living legend. Whether you revere him or not, his is a story of a man who has fought the unfairness of the cosmos while trying to unravel its mysteries.

Watch trailer: