Hawking Inspires in The Theory of Everything

The 2015 Oscars have been widely criticized for favoring white men in their nominations, choosing not only male stories, but also directors and producers.

With this in mind I watched the biopic of white men, The Imitation Game, and, as you may remember, was completely blown away. So when I sat down to watch The Theory of Everything, the true-life story of the brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking, I was concerned that it could not match its fellow nominee.

I should have known better.

When a film’s two main actors are nominated for best actor and actress in leading roles, it is no surprise that the film itself is nominated for Best Picture.

With captivating leads Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones entrancing their audience with a story of tragedy and heroic overcoming, it could not fail. And, most importantly, director James Marsh did Stephen Hawking’s life justice.

As always, the question of accuracy comes quickly to mind when watching a biopic. However, The Theory of Everything had an added stress. Stephen Hawking worked closely with Marsh, resulting in a movie carefully crafted with the knowledge that the subject would be among the first to view it.

Basing the movie after Jane Hawking and Stephen Hawking’s autobiographies, Marsh ensured that most of what we see is the truth.

Events are placed at different times for effect and conversations are not word-for-word, but Hawking watched the film with tears in his eyes. He deemed the movie “broadly true” and later emailed the crew and announced that at points he had forgotten that he was not watching himself.

The film begins at Cambridge graduate school where a young Hawking (played by the truly fantastic Redmayne) is a brilliant slacker. He is young and curious, unsure what his field will be but certain that he can come up with a solution to explain the entire universe.

While he fits into the classroom, Hawking is out of his element in our opening scene, a small mixer for students. What the young man does not yet realize is that this party changed, and possibly saved, his life.

Peaking out from under horn-rimmed glasses and shaggy hair, Hawking’s eyes land on Jane (Jones). Here lays the fun-filled (yet spectacularly done) romantic-comedy section of the film.

With quick-witted dialogue and short but masterful cuts, we watch as a believable love begins to form between Stephen and Jane: two passionate students who find an immediate connection with one another.

It is here at Cambridge that the biggest events of Hawking’s life occur: his inspiration to study and break apart time, meeting his wife, and the discovery that he has a terrible disease and only two years to live.

The transformation of the film from upbeat romance to tragic drama was beautifully crafted. Through small visual cues we are made aware that Hawking’s legs are beginning to turn inward, making walking difficult. His clumsiness is made poignant by his surprise in knocking over objects and dropping pens.

And then, finally, we are hit with the heavy blow: Diagnosed with motor neuron disease at the age of 21, Hawking is told by doctors that he will not live to see much more into adulthood.

Eddie Redmayne’s incredible portrayal of Hawking as not only an adorably awkward student, but as a disabled man, was truly striking. From his wry smile to the gleam in his eyes, he never lost sight of the brilliant and jesting Hawking.

As Hawking slowly loses control of his body and finally his voice, Redmayne transformed with him until I continuously forgot that the actor did not have the disease himself.

A particularly beautiful scene occurred at a dinner table celebration after Hawking’s recognition for his work in cosmology. Friends and family clink champagne glasses and begin to eat their meals, but the noise fades, and we focus in on Hawking, who works clumsily to bring a fork to his mouth as those before him gesture and laugh with ease.

In this moment we are truly made aware of the struggle and frustration Hawking felt in his slowly deteriorating body.

But if it is hard to imagine Hawking’s struggle, it is made even more real by Jane Hawking. His companion since the start, Jane works tirelessly to support Hawking and their three children.

We feel the unimaginable burden as Felicity Jones portrays Jane’s twisted feelings of love and despair, commitment and responsibility. Through the slightest facial expressions or movements, Felicity truly puts us into her position and difficult, yet wonderful, life.

I am purposely avoiding describing much of the dramatic and enticing plot throughout The Theory of Everything, as I hope that you will see the movie through your own eyes. Fitting so much into a two-hour block may have forced certain aspects of Hawking’s life to be cut short or made the film jumpy at times.

I do wish that they had allotted more time to Hawking’s scientific discoveries, though I know that this might have been found less interesting. But the amazing acting, clever script and true story of determination are well worth the watch. My fingers will be crossed for Eddie Redmayne as best leading actor next weekend.

But don’t believe me; just watch!

Sawyer Henshaw SC ‘17 is an English major from Hawaii. Believe it or not, the film columnist was not allowed to watch an R-rated film until she was 17.

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