Looking At “The Theory of Everything,” Post-2020 Nobel Prize

Yoon takes a deep dive into the Theory of Everything! (Lee)

Welp, it’s happened. Roger Penrose has finally, FINALLY,  gotten his Nobel Prize in Physics for proving the existence of black holes, along with Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez (who, by the way, is only the fourth woman in history to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics). Those reading this may be wondering, how is this news? After all, the first image of a black hole was taken two years ago, and black holes have been considered reality (for better or worse) for decades, popularized by a certain Professor Stephen Hawking. For those wondering, Nobel Prizes tend to take several years to award, especially with such largely theory-driven concepts like black holes. In fact, Roger Penrose was one of Professor Stephen Hawking’s closest colleagues, collaborating with him to obtain a conclusion on the cosmological Big Bang.

Among said Professor’s most popular appearances on the big screen was Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of him in “The Theory of Everything,” a role for which Redmayne (deservingly) earned an Oscar.

“The Theory of Everything” is a biographical film about Stephen Hawking, a bright student at the University of Cambridge who has finally decided to pursue a thesis regarding the possibility that black holes may have caused the advent of the universe. It is also about this time that he begins a relationship with a woman named Jane Wilde. However, to his horror, Hawking is diagnosed with a rare motor neuron disease, ALS, which will eventually leave him unable to move, swallow, or even breathe. He is given just two years to live. “The Theory of Everything” follows Hawking and Wilde as he defies expectations by living and creating more and more groundbreaking concepts and theories. Beyond his deteriorating physical condition, the couple must deal with Wilde having to do more and more in the household, including tending to both Hawking and their children, and how over the years their beliefs clash and relationship decays.

The main thing going for this movie is Eddie Redmayne. He kills it. Throughout the movie the horrors of motor neuron disease are prevalent, and Redmayne shows Hawking’s strength against it while showing his vulnerability. He sells the terror of this disease, of a mind being trapped in a body that can no longer move. One of the final scenes, with a fake-out with Hawking standing up and handing a pen to an audience member, is haunting. Throughout the movie, Hawking continues to deteriorate, and we get used to him being wheelchair-bound and muscle-locked. Seeing him stand up is heartbreaking, but beautiful and poignant.

The pacing of this movie is incredibly well done. Having to portray such a colorful life is difficult, and I believe they did the best they could considering. Every scene is important, and conflict is spaced apart with emotional, expositional, or even comedic scenes. The script is very well done as well. Too many movies state the obvious, and I appreciate that the screenwriters allow the movie to air itself out and let the audience figure out the horrors of ALS. The cinematography isn’t extremely special, but it is well done and well shot. Finally, the score is about as good as you can get with this type of movie. There aren’t really any special motifs or themes, but it does its job of emotionally connecting the audience to the movie. Plus, the movie knows when to cut the score to let a scene speak for itself.

There are a few things that I took issue with, though. First was that it didn’t really explain much of Hawking’s physics achievements. I would have appreciated more physics talk, which would help us get invested even more. In addition, I feel it is ironic to celebrate this man’s life without delving into what he actually did. I guess if I want to learn about his achievements I could watch a documentary, or take a quantum physics course (then presumably die, because what is quantum physics). Some people complained about the movie’s focus on religion as it pertained to Hawking and Wilde’s relationship, but I think it did make some sense here, firstly because Hawking himself has talked at length about religion and secondly because their relationship is the main focus of the movie. 

Also, the filmmakers apparently changed around some of the events, which I felt took away from the movie. Some things make sense from a filmmaking standpoint and are largely minor, but there are some serious amendments to history. Hawking and Wilde apparently got together after his initial diagnosis with ALS, and Hawking was much more stubborn about receiving help than was portrayed in the movie. In addition, the nature of their separation was much more… dramatic than in the movie. The film approaches it as a mutually respectful, tear-soaked conversation, while in reality it devolved into shouting matches and was only exacerbated by Hawking leaving Wilde for his second wife. They did eventually mend fences, but only ten years later (after his second marriage fell through). In addition, Redmayne’s Hawking is much gentler, whereas the real Hawking was much more adamant and independent.

Hawking’s revelations over the years have had immense implications for the whole of society and have inspired so many. Some of his work has also permeated into the film industry and even inspired one of my favorite movies (for those interested, “Interstellar.” The physics consultant was also Kip Thorne, one of Hawking’s oldest friends. He also consulted the team for “Tenet”). And finally, one more person of his field and generation got the Nobel he so desperately deserved. Roger Penrose is often considered one of the first to inspire Hawking into black hole research, and it is only fitting that he finally get that medal from the Swedish family.

“The Theory of Everything” is not my favorite biographical movie. That being said, it is a beautiful and inspiring look into an incredible man’s life. Despite the historical inconsistencies, I believe it does him justice.

 Plus, Hawking himself watched the movie and said he liked it. I’ll take that as a vote of confidence.