Monday, November 17, 2014

The Theory of Everything [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

The Theory of Everything [2014] (directed by James Marsh, screenplay by Anthony McCarten based on the memoirs of Jane Wilde-Hawking) is by most critical accounts (see above) a rather sanitized portrayal, IMHO honestly probably appropriately even necessarily, of the 25 year marriage of world famous theoretical physicist Steven Hawking (played in the film by Eddie Redmayne), debilitated for most of that time with advanced ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease), and his first wife Jane Wilde-Hawking (played in the movie Felicity Jones).

I write that the portrayal was "appropriately even necessarily sanitized" because there are plenty of hints in the film to those who have eyes, ears and brains (to say nothing of hearts) suggesting that the Hawkings' situation was NOT an easy one.  And yet, most, including emphatically myself (!), would probably agree that the story (and even specifically OF THEIR MARRIAGE) deserved to be told.

Why?  Well, let's begin by noting that Steven Hawking is probably the single most famous / historically significant disabled/physically challenged person in our time or perhaps in all time.  79-80 years ago, eugenicists across the "civilized world" (including certainly at Hawking's own Cambridge University) would have advocated EUTHANIZING severely challenged people like him.  And the Nazis GASSED the severely disabled.  Yet there are few doubts in anybody's minds THAT THE WORLD IS A BETTER MORE ENLIGHTENED PLACE FOR HAVING STEVEN HAWKING LIVING AMONG US DESPITE HIS ENORMOUS PHYSICAL SUFFERING AND LIMITATIONS.

Then despite his great intellectual gifts as well as his great physical suffering, Hawking is _also_ portrayed in the film, at times, as being somewhat of an ingrate / jerk.

For one, interestingly, throughout the film, he's portrayed as a rather aggressive atheist.  In his case, to be honest, I could actually go either way on this: On one hand, one could definitely feel angry (at God) for having one found oneself suffering from such an awful disease.  On the other hand, in my own work/ministry (as a Catholic Priest) I do have to say that EVERYONE WHO I'VE EVER KNOWN (there have been several) who's come down with ALS really did die in the 2-3-4 year window that was given Hawking when he was first diagnosed BACK IN 1963 (OVER FIFTY YEARS AGO).  That would seem to be something to be grateful for... to have _so spectacularly_ beaten the odds.  HOWEVER, back to the first hand, it's been one heck of a difficult life FOR THOSE FIFTY YEARS as well... So faith can be something of "a wash" in these situations even if I still do think that it's be EASIER to live with such difficulties believing that God is still somehow present to us / at our sides through it all.  (Interestingly also, Jane, first his girlfriend and then his wife is portrayed as being both an intellectual herself (she also got a PhD, in Romance languages) AND a believing and except for a couple of years in the middle there, A PRACTICING ANGLICAN).  Anyway, despite his suffering, I do honestly think that on balance Hawking did come across as something of an ingrate toward God because UNLIKE so many other people who have come down with AND DIED RATHER QUICKLY OF HIS ILLNESS, he's been able to live for 50 years further AND EVEN HAVE THREE KIDS WITH JANE.  Really, it's remarkable ... and yet ... also ... so painful.

Second, putting aside God, arguably what broke-up his and Jane's marriage was the entrance of his nurse Elaine Mason (played by Maxine Peake) into the picture.  She became his day-to-day caregiver after many years of illness (after he already even lost his normal speech).  Yet, this was ALSO after he had become a world famous physicist (for his contribution to the theory of the Big Bang).  One does wonder if Hawking would have been "a catch" if he was simply a random ALS sufferer with no fame to his name. AND YET ... Diana DID TAKE CARE OF HIM, and DID HAVE MORE ENERGY WITH REGARDS TO THIS THAN JANE (worn down by 2 1/2 DECADES of taking care of him...).  Still, the film made it quite clear that it was Steven who "walked out" of the marriage and not Jane (even if there was "an Anglican choir director/widower" (played by Charlie Cox) and Jane's future second husband ALSO hovering in the background).

So this is the story about a "mess", about a _very challenging marriage_, yes somewhat sanitized here, and yet still honest enough (no need to get into "Jerry Springer" territory...).

Yes, after 25 years, their marriage did collapse.  They both remarried, she, obviously, in the (Anglican) Church once more.  But honestly, what a story!  And it does appear that this story, written up in Jane's second memoir _was a collaboration with Steve_.

So good job folks, good job!  And honestly, as Pope Francis has already said famously in another context, in this most difficult case here, "Who can judge?" except ... perhaps God ;-) ... who'd of course love them both, _as us all_ ;-).

So IMHO in the final analysis, this is an excellent and _very human_ / thought provoking film about someone who can teach us more (and perhaps even through some of his own mistakes) than just about the stars.

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