Friday, January 9, 2015

“The Theory of Everything”: A Science Movie about Marriage

In this biopic of cosmologist Stephen Hawking based on his wife Jane’s memoir, Jane explains her husband’s all-encompassing goal: to unify quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Spearing a pea with one fork and a potato with another, she says that the physics for small particles (electrons, atoms) and the physics for large bodies (planets, suns, galaxies) are currently unreconciled. The laws of the pea don’t apply to the potato or vice versa.

My husband, Jane says proudly, is seeking a single equation that will explain both.

“The Theory of Everything” succeeds brilliantly because it reconciles the pea and the potato. It takes on the biggest of all topics, cosmology, while making marriage its focus. It does so with such feeling, such love for its characters, that I found myself weeping through much of the latter half.

When did you see a film about cosmology (potatoes) that made you cry for its characters (peas)? Terence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”? Not really.

Jane Hawking is unlike Stephen in at least two ways: She is “C of E” (a believing Church of Englander) and no physicist. When he succumbs to disease while she continues in robust health, the Hawkings seem to have three strikes against them.

But love knows no boundaries—like the universe that Hawking envisions and strives to define. As disease threatens to distance them and another man (Charlie Cox as a widowed musician) enters the family network, the marriage totters but does not dissolve. Together the Hawkings sacrifice, each for the other, in ways that will break your heart, as they did mine.

“The Theory of Everything” succeeds because it’s not about physics but about marriage, and because Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are lovable as Stephen and Jane. Until now, my image of Hawking was that of a brain in a wheelchair with a robotic, synthesized voice. “The Theory of Everything” and the brilliant Redmayne humanize Hawking as a shy, precocious freshman smitten with a girl and a courageous man who is able to keep his wife’s best interest in mind.

In Hawking’s early puppy love for Jane, I remembered the love that kindled my own marriage; and in her devotion to Stephen’s long-term well-being, reciprocated by him in striking ways, I was reminded of what holds a marriage together, in sickness and in health.

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