For those who see the title of the movie “The Theory of Everything” and break into a cold sweat, accompanied by flashbacks of those torturous high school and college science and math classes, rest assured this film is not two hours of a professor at a chalkboard, lecturing away.
Instead, “The Theory of Everything” is the story of two people who faced a sobering challenge and prevailed.
Eddie Redmayne is generating Academy Award buzz for his portrayal of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, whose theories on black holes sent shock waves through the scientific community. But this aspect of his life is not covered in detail in “The Theory of Everything.” Instead, the movie, based upon the book by Hawking’s ex-wife Jane, focuses on their relationship and his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
While a graduate student at Cambridge in the early 1960s, Hawking meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), a friend of his sister, and despite their religious differences — she is a member of the Church of England and he is an atheist — they fall in love.
However, the early signs of ALS set in and Hawking is told he has maybe two years to live. But instead of giving up, Jane vows to stay with him and help him deal with this degenerative disease, and they are married.
As his body deteriorates, Hawking remains focused on his work, and Jane becomes an emotional force and source of strength in their marriage, which produces three children.
Redmayne’s performance is exceptional, not only in portraying the debilitating aspect of the illness that leads him to being wheelchair bound, but also the difficulties in speech. Hawking is seen as a man still strong in mind and determination although growing weak in body.
The script by is Anthony McCarten, and as portrayed by Jones, Jane is seen as a woman who sometimes stumbles but never wilts under the pressures of having to provide constant care for her husband.
The movie does not delve into the strains of the marriage, although it does show how the Hawkings grew apart. Encouraged by her mother, Beryl (Emily Watson) to join a church choir as a release from the enormous burdens of caring for her husband, Jane does so and meets the choir director, Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a widow who soon also becomes a helper in the family, and inevitably he and Jane develop strong feelings for one another.
Meanwhile, Hawking grows close to one of his nurses, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), and eventually he and Jane are divorced and he marries Elaine while Jane weds Jonathan.
The screenplay by McCarten, along with the direction of James Marsh, handle this aspect of the Hawkings marriage delicately. In real life, there was a period of alienation between Stephen and his ex-wife and children, and there were even suspicions by his family, never proven, that Stephen was being physically abused. Eventually there was reconciliation with his children and Jane.
In the end, “The Theory of Everything” is the story of triumph. Hawking has lived decades beyond what was expected, as ALS is a fatal disease. And when Hawking makes a public appearance long after he has lost his voice via a tracheotomy and must communicate electronically, he writes, “There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”