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The Theory of Everything (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Running Time 123 minutes.

OK for children.

When I left the screening I thought that this is one of the most beautiful, heartwarming, tear-jerking romantic movies I have ever seen. Itís the story of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), the world renowned astrophysicist, who was diagnosed in 1963 with motor neuron disease (a.k.a. Lou Gehrigís disease) when he was 21 years of age and in love with fellow student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones).

Rather than abandoning him, though, Jane casts her destiny, discards her personal ambitions, and marries him. Lucky for him because itís her loving care that propels him onward. Brilliantly directed by James Marsh, the sensitive screenplay by Anthony McCarten is based on Jane Hawkingís book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.

But itís not just a story of a young woman casting aside her personal ambitions and promising to devote her life to a man who would clearly be severely disabled for the rest of their lives, but whose prognosis was, at best, to die in 2 years. It also shows the young man's will to live and how he becomes internationally renowned despite his tragic disease. What he goes through and how he survives is astonishing.

Shot in England, a lot of it at Cambridge at St. Johnís College (Hawking actually attended Trinity Hall, but it was less suitable for filming), the cinematography (BenoÓt Delhomme) is exceptional and adds a lot to the film.

Redmayneís performance is extraordinary. He becomes Hawking in the way he moves and communicates. It must have taken enormous energy, both physical and emotional, to do this role. Jonesí performance doesnít require the physical effort of Redmayneís but was arguably as difficult, if not more, in that she captures the devoted love that Jane had in her eyes and mannerisms. They both created tears in my eyes.

Jones is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. She was remarkable playing a teenager in Breathe In earlier this year (even though she was 30 years old when she played the role), in which I commented, ďHer subdued, seething sexiness and the slow way she attracts the affection of Keith, her elder by some two decades at least, are what really make this movie so fascinating.Ē Even though sheís no temptress here, she represents the woman about whom every man dreams, beautiful, kind, and caring.

This is not an easy film to watch, even though prospectively it seems like watching someone progress through Lou Gehrigís disease might be depressing. Itís not depressing, itís heart-lifting, but there are still plenty of places that keep the tears coming, but they are tears of admiration, not sadness. You just donít see this kind of love every day, at least from Janeís end.

The only disappointment I had was that Marsh did not include archival photos of the real Stephen and Jane below the end credits. The only way I got to see the real Jane was when The Today Show did an interview with Jones (who attended Oxford) and showed photos of Jane. Seeing her in person added a lot to the movie for me.

Spoiler alert! Alas, after I left the screening I decided to do a little research and discovered that truth is a long way from this fiction.

I discovered that the film is based on Janeís second book, which is a revised version of her first, Music to Move the Stars: A Life with Stephen Hawking, containing 610 pages. Her first book tells the real story, that after almost 30 years of devotion by Jane, during which she suppressed her personal ambitions in order to care for him and during which she put up with his selfish demands, he left her for another woman. She not only had to do everything for Stephen, literally, but also raise their two children. Hawking then fell for his nurse, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), callously cast Jane aside in 1990, divorced her, married Elaine in 1995, and was out of contact with Jane and his children for almost a decade. Although the film does deal with the separation in a heartbreaking scene for Jane, it takes pains to protect Stephen.

In her first book, Jane says that, despite what is shown in this movie, during her almost thirty year marriage all that kept her from suicide were her two children. After Stephen divorced Elaine in 2006 most probably due to alleged physical abuse by her, he resurrected his friendship with Jane and Jane then issued her 450 page revised edition, upon which the film is based. After learning the truth, the glow I felt for the film diminished substantially, although not my affection for Jones and Jane.

For more info on the real Stephen Hawking and what Jane went through, see The Other Side of Stephen Hawking: Strippers, Aliens, and Disturbing Abuse Claims by Marlow Stern in The Daily Beast, Brief History of a First Wife  by Tim Adams in The Observer, April 3, 2004, or read Janeís first book.

While this film warms the heart, I think the real story would have been much more interesting.

November 4, 2014

 

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