Stephen Hawking was one of the most famous and brilliant scientists who ever lived. In spite of his tragic passing in 2018, his contributions to the world made him an icon (even though some people might not agree with his theories). Because his theories are about life, time, space, and the universe as a whole, it’s perhaps no surprise that a film about his life would be titled The Theory of Everything.
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and directed by the Oscar-winner James Marsh (Man on Wire), this remarkable motion picture was immensely popular during its 2014 release; it celebrated the life of Stephen Hawking (who actually helped contribute insights into his personal life during the making of The Theory of Everything). The film is a tribute to Stephen Hawking’s life and recognizes his contributions to the world.
Within this celebrated biopic and “Best Picture” nominee, the beautifully tragic love story between Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde comes to life. The marriage between Jane and Stephen might have ended in divorce, but this film depicts the genuine love between these two romantic partners who had to deal with some of the direst circumstances imaginable. Jane and Stephen actually remained friends and had three grandchildren during the time of this film’s release in 2014, and the real Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde actually contributed immensely to the making of this film to help Redmayne and Jones deliver Oscar-caliber performances.
Eddie Redmayne won both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for capturing the essence of Stephen Hawking, and he even thanked his “staggering partner-in-crime Felicity Jones” during his Oscar acceptance speech. Hawking himself has noted that watching Eddie’s visceral performance made him feel as if he was watching himself on-screen. Perhaps that is why Redmayne earned so much recognition during the awards season for that particular year.
Part of the brilliance of this film is that it does more than simply present the life of Stephen Hawking, which is somewhat of a Hollywood standard for the traditional biopic. Instead, this film delves deeper into fundamental themes that unite humanity as a whole. For example, the film dares to ask unfathomable questions about what it means to be human, as well as what it means to be alive.
There is a powerful scene near the end of the film in which Hawking was asked about his religious beliefs; specifically, his belief about whether or not God exists. This pivotal moment reveals great truths about existence as Hawking replies, “No matter how bad life may seem, while there is life, there is hope.” Hawking might not have been religious—he was an atheist—but that important scene reveals how precious life can be, especially since our lives are limited.
Ironically, while The Theory of Everything is a tribute to Stephen Hawking, this film is not actually based on his life story. Instead, this film is an adaptation of Jane Wilde’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. This key fact relates to the famous notion that “behind every great man is a great woman.” Indeed, Felicity Jones’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Jane reveals her devotion to Hawking in spite of their real-life divorce. Jones gave a performance that dealt more with emotional turmoil and the struggle to cope while Redmayne had to display the physical transformation that made Stephen Hawking’s life a challenging one.
Jane Wilde is such a formidable character in this film adaptation because she had to come to terms with the reality of her unfortunate situation; yet, she still expressed unconditional love for Stephen even though their relationship changed over time. That is actually a key theme in the memoir and film adaptation—change is constant. Part of the beauty of the film, and in real life, is how their relationship evolved throughout the changes.
The final scene is also very clever because it pushes the theme of time even further. Stephen Hawking tells Jane, “Look what we made,” and then the film basically “rewinds” itself as the audience catches glimpses of earlier parts of the film before returning to the moment that Stephen and Jane first met. Such a unique use of film reveals the fundamental fact that past events shape the lives of people to fashion them into whom they are at the present moment.
Time cannot be reversed, literally, but Hawking’s explorations within his famous publication A Brief History of Time dares to ask deep and philosophical questions about what it means to be human, and what people do with their time. Time might be an enigmatic concept, but Hawking’s scientific and personal accomplishments can remind viewers and readers about how precious time really is. It is a core aspect of the human experience, and people only have so much time available to make the most of their lives.
Stephen Hawking was a truly remarkable person given the fact that doctors initially believed that his life expectancy would be short after receiving his ALS diagnosis. He defied all odds, living to 76, and used his time and intellect to make a significant impact on not just the scientific world but humanity as a whole. Hawking remains an inspirational figure for many, not just people with disabilities. His life is a great example of how someone can have meaning and influence on the world around them despite facing enormous challenges.
The Theory of Everything initially begins as a love story between a young Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde. Their romance forms a major aspect of this film because it portrays the love between these two formidable individuals. As the film progresses with the relationship between these two main characters, it ultimately transitions into a deep and philosophical film that dares to ask, “What really is the ‘theory of everything?’” The film itself might not provide a concise and easy answer to such a broad question, but it does offer the fundamental fact that hope, love, and the human experience make life a true blessing no matter what challenges people have to inevitably face throughout their journey.
Hawking’s efforts to understand the universe in spite of his personal challenges is an inspiration for people all over the world. Stephen Hawking transcended his physical limitations to become a world-renowned scientist, an influential figure, and a pop culture icon. Hawking made the most of his time, and The Theory of Everything (2014) truly honors the life and legacy of one of the most fascinating people the world has ever known.
Previously Published on Mindfray