I don’t have the time to watch as many movies as I’d like, but on a recent day when I wasn’t feeling very well, I allowed myself to park on the couch and watch The Theory of Everything. I was sick (again?!), a little depressed (for any number of reasons), and uninspired (“I’m a sucky writer”), and needed something to make me feel that this, too, shall pass. This movie was the perfect antidote.
It’s the story of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his life with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disorder), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Diagnosed as a young man when he was a brilliant student at Cambridge, he was originally given only two years to live. After initially giving in to despair (who wouldn’t?), he was rallied to live life to the fullest in the time he had left with the love and support of his family, friends, and his lady love, Jane. He continued his studies, became Professor Hawking, and yes, married Jane and had three children with her. Obviously, he’s outlived his life expectancy by fifty or more years, at times, it seems, by sheer force of will.
Hawking is played by Eddie Redmayne, who thoroughly deserves the Best Actor Oscar he won for the role. He eerily brings to life Hawking’s early years with gangly, nerdy-cuteness, and then slowly and inevitably tracks the progress of the disease over time, transforming himself into the shrunken, slumped being in the wheelchair. Once Hawking loses his capacity for speech, Redmayne brilliantly conveys the physicist’s emotions solely through facial expressions, while never losing that mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Felicity Jones plays Hawking’s loyal first wife Jane, and the movie is as much her story as it is his (the movie is based on her memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen). She stands by him through the many years of health crises and adaptations, and for a time singlehandedly cared for him and raised their three children, while still trying to work on her PhD. Her love and loyalty to her brilliant husband are never in doubt, and I can’t imagine anyone really blaming her for falling in love with family friend Jonathan, who eventually helps her take care of Stephen and the kids. Eventually, Stephen likewise falls in love with his assistant, Elaine, and he and Jane amicably divorce after many years of marriage.
I’ve always been a little awed by scientists, especially cosmologists and astrophysicists. Anyone who can wrap their minds around black holes and quasars are super-beings, in my opinion. I would have been impressed by Stephen Hawking in any case, but since my grandmother died of ALS when I was ten, for me, the man has taken on mythic proportions. An intact mind becoming trapped in a useless body seems the most horrible fate imaginable. I watched it happen to my grandmother, and it was horrible. It’s been no picnic for Hawking, and yet it seems to me that the sheer incandescence of his mind is what’s kept him alive, and thriving, for so many years.
Now that’s inspiring.
What about you? Have you seen this wonderful movie? What movies inspire you? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!