Last night, my husband and I finally made it to the theater where James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything was shown after a few aborted attempts at seeing the film earlier. Though my husband characterized the film as a chic flick about Saint Jane, I very much enjoyed this film about the British physicist Stephen Hawking and his relationship with his first wife Jane. I thought the film intimated a more complicated reality underneath the somewhat conventional exploration of their lives despite its obvious constraints as a biographical film about still-living people. (I think a film about living people demands at least modicum of restraints in order to respect the subject people’s privacy and to avoid, what Jean Baudrillard called “the end of interiority and intimacy” even in our age of reality TV shows and overexposure.)
The film was remarkable on several grounds. First, the life of Stephen Hawking itself is by far most remarkable. Though he received a doctor’s prognosis that his life expectancy would be only 2 more years after developing the Motor Neuron Disease (Lou Gehrig’s disease) when he was still a college student, he soon afterwards conceived a theory of the origin of universe. Not only that, he later developed a theory that canceled out his first theory in his attempt at reconciling the conventional physics and quantum physics (very much in the vein of Wittgenstein’s philosophical career, I think). At age 72 (in a way, what a triumph!), he still works for “an elegant theory” that explains everything (the film’s title obviously derives from his current effort in theoretical physics). His life, it seems to me, reveals an intrepid and defiant spirit that Nietzsche might have characterized as “uber-mensch” despite his physical frailty. His exceptional life deserves to be the subject of narratives in many different media, such as film and novel so that we can be inspired.
Second, the actor Eddie Redmayne’s embodiment of Stephen Hawking was remarkable in his capacity to become one with his subject character. He was utterly believable as Stephen Hawking in his quiet mischievousness and passion for understanding the universe.
Third, Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane, whose book this film is based on, was remarkable in her determination to love and have a family with Stephen even after he was diagnosed with MND. Although at times I found her Sphinx-like character somewhat inscrutable (this may simply mean that I do not understand Saintly humans) she was nonetheless awe-inspiring in her dogged insistence to love and live with Stephen. I think she is an amazing person without whom Stephen Hawking may not have been able to accomplish what he did.
Fourth, the film depicted the English (educated, middle-class English people) as rational and admirable. There was no mean person (not really) in this film. Perhaps, the filmmakers avoided mean people (who undoubtedly exist) because the narrative did not require any other major human antagonist; Stephen Hawking’s condition itself functioned as an insurmountable antagonist.
Finally, I would say this film should be watched by young people who may be suffering from a sense of life’s meaninglessness; the film may work as a great antidote to such futile thought.