“The Theory of Everything” Movie Review

     When you exit the theater after viewing “The Theory of Everything”, the idea that any obstacle in life can be overcome has an even more profound meaning.  The story of the famous English Cosmologist Stephen Hawking is, at times, a difficult film to watch, but ends in a way that becomes undeniably inspiring.  Stephen’s story is one of triumph and director James Marsh wisely chooses to focus attention primarily on his family life, while occasionally pointing to his accomplishments in the scientific community.  The film is based on a memoir written by his wife of 30 years, Jane Hawking, which chronicles the peaks and valleys of their life together from the early years at Cambridge University, until they ultimately grow apart as neither is able to give what the other needs.  As Stephen, Eddie Redmayne (“My Week with Marilyn”, “Les Miserables”) turns in one of the best performances of the year, capturing both the charm and sly wit his character possesses, along with the physical demands of accurately depicting a person saddled with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

     As a student in Cambridge’s astute Physics department in the mid 1960s, Stephen impresses his professors with an array of brilliant ideology, consistently challenging the theories of his predecessors with ideas of his own that center around how the solar system was created and the existence of a God.  He’s awkward for sure.  Reminding of Mike Myers’ memorable Austin Powers character with his black rimmed glasses always seemingly crooked on his face.  When he has a chance meeting with another student, Jane (Felicity Jones), they hit it off and soon find themselves falling in love.  In life, tragedy can strike at any time as the situation Stephen finds himself in soon turns from good to bad.  While simply walking to class, he stumbles unexpectedly to the ground and knocks himself out as if his legs gave out and failed him.  After a number of medical tests, a doctor solemnly tells Stephen he has ALS, a disease which at the time gave him another two years to live.

     As is covered extensively in the film, ALS systematically shuts down the ability of the brain to control muscular movement.  As the disease progresses into its later stages, the patient will begin to lose voluntary movement, including functions such as chewing, swallowing, and speaking, among other complications.  As a twenty something college student, Stephen was ill equipped to deal with the ramifications of the disease with his response being to virtually shut out his friends, teachers, and most importantly, Jane.  With the story being as much about Jane as it is Stephen, we are quickly introduced to a resilient woman who makes a decision within the prime years of her life to dedicate herself to caring for Stephen, knowing full well what such a decision would mean.

     It’s not long before Stephen becomes confined to a wheelchair and is unable to feed or clothe himself.  His speech becomes barely intelligible and yet he shows throughout the story his undying spirit and will to live.  Rather than focusing on what he can’t do, he focuses on what he can do.  He is able to finish school, receiving his PhD in Physics and soon becomes a published author, noted around the world as a foremost expert in the theories involving black holes.  Stephen and Jane are able to have a family and over time have three children.  But Stephen’s condition continues to get worse, even though it becomes clear he has outlived the original life expectancy by decades as the film moves into its third act.  A bout with pneumonia renders him unable to speak, and yet he is still able to overcome this with the help of a nurse hired to care for him while recovering from a coma caused by the pneumonia.  That nurse, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), would eventually become Stephen’s second wife.

     Elaine is able to step in to fill the void of being able to communicate that Jane is now clearly struggling with.  Even though Stephen is outfitted with a device that allows him to type words one letter at a time at an expected rate of four words per minute, it becomes clear Jane is frustrated and longs for a normal life with a man who can fulfill her needs after caring so long for the needs of Stephen.  What’s not lost on the viewer is the extraordinary journey Stephen and Jane have taken and the amount of patience and dedication Jane has infused into their relationship.  There is no doubt Stephen realizes this and as presented in the film, it’s obvious the two decide to part on amicable terms.  Amazingly, Stephen is alive today and at the age of 72, continues to head up the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge.  Where many would likely have given up, Stephen Hawking has lived despite a terrible handicap and continues to be one of the greatest scientists in the world today.  “The Theory of Everything”  capably honors Stephen and all he has accomplished, but also highlights the woman in his life whose love and sacrifice allowed him to succeed. GRADE: B+