Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Theory of Everything

I went to see a matinee of the Theory of Everything (a plus to being laid off is having afternoons free to see an inexpensive matinee. I'm planning on hitting the Sundance cinemas on Tuesday to take advantage of their $5 Tuesdays, too. It's a good movie time).

Anyhow, the movie is a biopic of Stephen Hawking based on a 2007 book by his ex-wife. It's an interesting biopic. As a movie, it's a little diffuse, and there are some plot points that in any other movie would derail the proceedings.  It is anchored with strong performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who manage to keep you entertained and involved enough to not ask some of the more difficult questions that seem to be skirted over. It's worth seeing, but not earth shattering, which is a shame, as his story is.

Hawking was diagnosed with what the film terms "motor neuron disease" and also as ALS. Though Hawking was initially told he had two years to live in 1963, he is still with us, and still writing.  It's a triumphant story.  The movie deals with the challenge of his care, and the toll it took on his wife and family.  It touches on his theory of everything - his search for an elegant mathematical theorem that would explain the universe. Strangely, though, it felt somewhat soft pedaled to me.  Perhaps because my father was diagnosed with a neurological disease when I was 5, and died of it when I was 32.

I had a difficult relationship with my father, to say the least. My theory of everything would include anger, resentment, and a lot of rage. It would include violence and the threat of violence. We hear so many stories about people handling their decline with grace. It's important. Those stories are uplifting. This story is uplifting.  Perhaps it's the stiff upper lip of it all, but I was wondering if perhaps there was a little more to the story, more frayed edges from a woman who took care of her husband as he diminished physically while also raising their three children.  My mother doesn't remember a year of her life.  Unlike Hawking and his wife, their divorce was acrimonious and awful, played out on the children as well.  It echoes. It becomes less with time, but then something like this movie will bring the sense of that time back.

The movie got the physicality right. Redmayne is transformed -  the feet, the curl of the hand; the walking with canes and then the wheelchair and then the motorized wheelchair. My father had heavy wingtips that he would drag along, eventually pulling up to put in the foot rests of his chair once he no longer used the aluminum braces with the gray plastic arm cuffs. My theory of everything would include some point of view of the children, though they seem to have a good relationship with both their parents.  I imagine that some people with an illness like this actually grow closer to their families from mutual struggle. That wasn't our story. My theory of everything would include an equation that factors in the possibility of fracture, of loss of purpose rather than drive. And of how to learn that it doesn't need to dictate the future as well.

Hawking moves from a theory that has a need for god and an origin to one that doesn't. His work as explained in the film centers on time and black holes, and how a magnetic pull from this dead star can be so dense that it consumes itself and everything around it. In the denseness, he said, you can measure the radiation from the origin of the universe.


StinkyLulu said...

Lovely. I would so value the chance to read a fuller post on this topic ("My Theory of Everything"). Your details here about your experience of your dad's illness are so powerfully vivid. Thank you.

Elizabeth said...

I would love to go to the movies with you on a Tuesday sometime. Will you email me next time?

Criticlasm said...

Yes - I'd love that. For sure.