The Theory of Everything (2014) is a film that is inspired by the famous astrophysicist, author, and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who passed away on March 14. Throughout his life, Hawking has been recognized mainly for his extraordinary findings and theories. While this film acknowledges his great work, it also focuses on his personal life–more specifically, the life and love that he had with Jane.
The Theory of Everything is a film directed by James Marsh, which tells the story of Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. It is based on a book written by Jane as a memoir of her first marriage, called Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. The source material being what it is, it is no surprise that the film does not focus solely on Stephen’s scientific breakthroughs but on the warmer and emotional story that was his life with Jane.
▲ Stephen Hawking. PROVIDED BY REUTERS
The film, despite having Stephen Hawking as the main character, gives great importance to the link between Stephen and Jane. This is obvious as the film starts with their first meeting, and it keeps showing how the dynamics of their love change by using montages to sum up certain parts of their lives. Symbolism is also used as a way to foreshadow the future of their relationship. Stephen being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease also adds desperation to a strong romantic bond, for neither expected their time together would last long. Although Hawking manages to surpass the expected life span of a patient with Lou Gehrig’s disease, as his condition deteriorates, the nature of the relationship shifts.
Before watching the film, it is easy to mistake The Theory of Everything as an ordinary romance film, especially as its Korean release name translates to “Everything about Love.” However, the film is far from saccharine. In most contemporary romance films, the main couple eventually overcomes all hardships thrown at them and reaches a satisfying happily-ever-after. Or, in the case of a sad ending, the characters go through a clean break and meet new romantic interests after they go their separate ways. However, in The Theory of Everything, Jane and Stephen split up amicably, remaining close friends even after their separation, but they find new romantic partners before their divorce. It is a rather unconventional ending to a film that devotes its story to love.
The ending of the film may be surprising to those less familiar with Stephen Hawking’s life. Within the film, it has been heavily foreshadowed by the mention of religion and the content of Hawking’s works that their relationship will not last. Jane subscribes to the Church of England, while Stephen is an atheist. While their religious beliefs—or lack thereof—seem to clash from the moment they mention them, the theory Stephen was working on at that point mitigates the apparent rift. For his doctoral degree, Stephen proposed that the universe had a beginning. Since the universe had a start, there was room for interpretation that someone created it. Jane thought the creator could be God–thus, the theory was the symbol of compromise between Jane’s faith and Stephen’s beliefs, and it reflected the growing strength of their love.
However, as the story progresses, Stephen announces that he is working to disprove his doctorate theory and confirm that the universe has no boundaries, no beginnings, and therefore no creator. This moment is significant because it is inserted after the series of scenes that shows the great toll family life was taking upon Jane, who gave her all to care for Stephen without any outside help. While Stephen appreciated the sacrifices Jane made, it is shown that he did not understand their depth, as is shown in the montage of their life after their children were born. The scenes are shot so that Jane is often behind Stephen so the audience can observe Jane’s hardship out of Stephen’s sight.
The scene with Stephen’s new theory confirms what the montage has been building up to, and since it denied the compromise that embodied their strong love at the beginning, it cemented the fact that the kind of love they shared at first is fading. Indeed, soon after Stephen’s announcement, they start to gradually decrease their dependency on one another, with Stephen telling Jane she need not fly with him when he is invited to another country, and Jane taking care of the children with another person’s help.
Although the Hawkings’ story did not end in a typical happy ending, it cannot be said that the love they shared died with their marriage. The love shown during the first half of the movie is the kind that everyone recognizes easily– one of sacrifice and passion, as they marry despite Stephen’s illness and try to go through the hardships relying only on one another. This sort of love slowly dissipates as the story progresses, but this in no way means that love has faded. Instead, it is replaced by a different sort of love–one of friendship and gentle affection for one another. The change can be recognized in the scene in which, after the separation Stephen has Jane accompany him when he is invited to see the Queen of England. The scene showed how Stephen and Jane cared for one another greatly, even if what they felt for one another was not the same as the emotions they had at the start.
The aspects of love shown in the film are so very close to home. The nature of love is hardly permanent–it is affected by both factors provided by the partners and by external factors. The heightened realism can be traced back to a true story that stable bedrock storytellers often build upon for a reason. Even with all the depth-adding bitterness real experiences can hold, the candid, straightforward portrayal of transforming love is a wake-up call for today’s audience. It makes them take a step back from the skin-deep fantasy of romance that they had grown used to and helps them find beauty in real, heartfelt love.
Since The Theory of Everything was based on the memoir written by Jane, no one can be certain that all the events in the film progressed according to what actually happened, save the Hawkings. Nonetheless, the love the two shared in the movie is realistic enough to differentiate The Theory of Everything from other common romantic fiction. In fact, the bittersweet portrayal of love is what imprints the film within the minds of the audience that had learned to expect repetition from similar patterns of love.