You wouldn’t guess that Stephen Hawking’s inspiring and dramatic life would need embellishment by withholding pertinent information and distorting facts, yet that is precisely what occurs in the film “The Theory of Everything.” Based on his first wife’s book (”Travelling to Infinity”), Jane Hawking is portrayed as a fresh-faced, forever young martyr who manages to take care of a completely paralyzed man and three children while working on her Ph.D and vacuuming the house - all unassisted. Since we have already witnessed that once Stephen required a wheelchair, he needed to be lifted and carried to his next location, we know that it just isn’t possible that they lived without additional help yet we don’t see a nurse enter until the children are fairly grown. In truth, as of 1974, a student always lived and traveled with the Hawkings to help with Stephen’s extraordinary health care needs.
For unexplained reasons, we are never told that after Stephen’s tracheotomy, he was cared for by three shifts of nurses, including Elaine Mason, the woman who caused the breakup in his marriage and whom he eventually married in 1995. Also not revealed is that those two divorced 11 years later after nasty rumors that she had been abusing him. Did the filmmaker think that the brilliant and helpless Hawking would be less sympathetic with some character flaws? Would his wife Jane appear less noble if the nurses who helped to care for him were acknowledged for their help? And why the omission of the fact that all of his care was paid for by a private American foundation since the National Health Service would only pay for him in a nursing home.
What happens in this film is that after the scene when Jane’s mother comes to visit and instead of a)offering to pay for some help b)rolling up her sleeves and preparing a meal or doing something useful or c) calling the university, the publisher or any of the myriad institutions that had bestowed numerous honours on Hawking to explain the family’s financial woes - she sits her daughter down for a heart to heart chat and tells her that what she really needs is to join the church choir. After this inexpensive advice, I found myself laughing with disbelief and tuning out.
Eddie Redmayne does a brilliant job of impersonating the contorted scientist, making his unintelligible speech somehow understandable, and after he loses his speech, making his tiny facial movements appropriately monumental. Felicity Jones, who plays Jane, appears to be 19 until we realize that she’s middle-aged with shorter hair and then a senior with a hat. Particularly ironic in a film about the author of “A Brief History of Time” is that while Stephen and the children age normally, poor overworked Jane remains unchanged for almost 20 years; not a wrinkle on her brow, not an extra ounce on her body, not a single sag to her jawline. She’s the woman whom time forgot.
A movie about Stephen Hawking owes us sufficient truth to match its gutsy and defiant subjects. The dishonesty in depicting events turns this film into soap opera, thereby dishonoring a heroic man whose life stands as a rebuke to this diminution. You can see this movie if you need a good cathartic cry but even Wikipedia will provide a more comprehensive grasp of Stephen Hawking’s incredible achievement and real-life valiant wife.
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