The Theory of Everything chronicles the life of Stephen and Jane Hawking from their budding romance to their ultimate separation decades later. This film was adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. In the midst of Stephen’s great scientific achievements and deterioration in physical abilities, the central focus is on their relationship from Jane’s point of view.
From the beginning of the movie, set in Cambridge, England, we see Stephen’s genius sets him apart from his colleagues, possessing a sense of humour and confidence. Jane is introduced as a soft-spoken yet strong-willed woman, and soon thereafter an optimistic and tenacious individual. Very early on in their relationship Stephen finds out that he has motor neuron disease and is given a two-year life expectancy. He is told that he will lose functioning in his muscular system including his speech, swallowing abilities, and physical movement. Stephen isolates himself and tries to end his relationship with Jane. Upon hearing the devastating news, Jane confronts Stephen, and without hesitation tells him that she loves him and wants to be with him in spite of their short-lived future.
Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking was nothing short of spectacular. He took home the Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe this year. In a short time, Hawking’s health transitions from being young and vibrant to requiring a cane with slurred speech, and ultimately confined to a motorized wheelchair. With what was cutting-edge technology for the time, he uses a computer-assisted speech device to communicate again not only to his family and friends, but to the masses as we all know him. Redmayne’s physical transformation along with his ability to express himself using his eyes and facial expressions is what makes this challenging role memorable and worthy as a top contender this year.
Felicity Jones, who played Jane Hawking, was also nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actress category. Compared to Redmayne, she did not have the same “meat” to work with; however, her portrayal was captivating as a woman who sacrificed and cared for her husband. Jones was strong at depicting a woman struggling with feelings she develops for Jonathan, a man who ends up assisting the family, tempered by the desire to be faithful to Stephen.
The viewers see that over time their relationship was weakened by the lack of awareness and communication of the needs of one another. It appeared that Stephen was unaware of the burden Jane was facing as his only caregiver for many years of their marriage. Her role as a wife and mother interfered with her ability to focus on her PhD, and her own personal needs were overshadowed. Over time, it came across that Jane was stifled in this relationship, and her once optimistic and strong character was muted. Their lack of communication and insight into one another’s feeling and values was apparent until their decision to separate. It is also questionable about Stephen’s self-awareness, more so because this film does not explore this aspect of his character. As a drawback in this film, we are unaware of the personal impact of his major life events or the driving force behind his achievements. Only until we arrive near the end of the movie do we see a glimpse of that. During a question and answer interview he tells his audience that humans are boundless with their abilities and to never to give up hope. There is a sense of conviction and gratitude in this scene, which as a viewer was humbling to see given his talents and physical challenges.
Overall, we recommend this film that shows the extraordinary life of Jane and Stephen Hawking. Just keep in mind that if you are expecting the movie to dive deeper into his scientific theories, his atheistic standpoint, and inner struggles, this movie provides only a cursory overview on these subjects.