Year Released: 2014
Directed by: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
(PG-13, 123 min.)
“Theoretical physics is one of the few fields in which being disabled is no handicap – it is all in the mind.” Stephen Hawking
This exquisite film is as brilliant as the mind of Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and heir to Einstein. And it does something that far too few films currently do. It inspires us.
Which is a wonderful thing, since we've benn recently seiged with artsy Oscar contenders that delight in deconstruction and nihilism. The Theory of Everything, based on Traveling to Infinity, the memoir of Hawking’s first wife, Jane, is a story that will knock your socks off.
Despite her demur presence, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), the fellow Cambridge student Stephen falls in love with just before he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease, is one tenacious lady. She is not unlike the young Queen mum in The King’s Speech, who was determined to help her husband deal with his debilitating stutter.
But of course, Hawking’s affliction, known commonly here as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, is much, much worse. In fact, when he is diagnosed at the age of 21, the young physicist is given only 2 years to live. And the doctor’s blunt prognosis calls for a systematic unraveling of all of Hawking’s functions, except for one. His mind will not be affected, but as the doctor tells him, “You will still have thoughts, but no one will be able to know what they are.”
Stephen’s first reaction to the diagnosis is to retreat into his shell, shunning his friends and not accepting Jane’s phone calls. But Jane is a force to be reckoned with, perhaps as strong as the disease itself. She will not give up on Stephen, plunging into his room and demanding that he play a game of croquet with her.
When her future father in law reminds her that life with Stephen will feature “…a very heavy defeat,” she in undaunted. Jane’s explanation is that same force which has propelled humanity along its long uncertain path, one that refuses to see barriers.
“But I love him and he loves me.”
Mountains are there for the climbing, oceans for the crossing, bumps and chasms but mild irritations to make the wild ride interesting.
So much of the film’s delight, a serendipitous sweetness despite the affliction from which the cameras never flinch, is in Eddie Redmayne’s phenomenal portrayal of Hawking. Always there is his shy charm that permeates everything. Early on, the man who does not dance nevertheless invites Jane to the spring ball, where he mesmerizes her under starry skies with a brief account of the physics behind it. And then, under their spell, he suddenly begins a few faltering dance steps. He explains his idea of traveling back to the beginning of time along the banks of River Cam as he twirls Jane around him like a giddy planet circling the sun. Only someone with a poetic gift could describe theoretical physics as “the marriage of space and time,” as Stephen says of his major when he first meets Jane. She, of course quips with equal wit, “The perfect couple.”
Of course, this is a tale made for the telling, but often even the best stories, once they are committed to film, fall prey to maudlin overreach or sentimentality. The Theory of Everything steers clear of both these traps.
Stephen’s imminent disease seeps slowly into our vision even as the film opens with a dizzying bicycle ride through the cobbled streets of Cambridge. There is just a hint of the wobble in Stephen’s wheels, but he does not slow down. Later, we see his tentative and somewhat awkward grip on the chalk as he crams a blackboard with esoteric formulas. Early on Eddie Redmayne gives Stephens’ gate just a hint of a toddler’s stagger, until we finally experience the ultimate stumble and that horrible sound as his head hits and then bounces off the pavement.
We see him struggle to hold a fork, the effort it takes to swallow, the labored struggle to get his words out even as his mind races to infinity. Yet, even in the wheelchair he ultimately accepts, his head bobbing sideways, Hawking’s tilted grin and laughing eyes breathe a vitality most of us do not even hope to possess.
Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning performance is enough to recommend this film. But it is the story of a man who continues to defy the odds, still working to find that single theory to explain everything until he died at age 76, that sells it. In fact, in his infectious enthusiasm and zest for life and learning, perhaps Hawking has already found his theory of everything without even knowing it.
It’s ironic that so many of us know Stephen Hawking through his synthesized voice, the one that was so earth shattering for him when the technology came into use in the late 70s. This new device was a wonderful boon for him, since he could no longer speak after having had a tracheotomy after a severe bout of pneumonia. There was one rub, though. The accent was American! Many years later, he still sticks with his old American accented synthesized voice, though. Too late to add the plummy sounding English vowels at this date.
However, let’s stick to Britain for our recipe, and I have chosen one that is almost as marvelous as Dr. Hawking. And it might add a new festive touch to your holiday entertaining.
This delectable Grand English Plum Pudding is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, especially when you light up the brandy poured over it.
Our recipe comes from Different Drummer's own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover's Cookbook, which, by the way, would make a lovely Christmas gift. (Click on the link below the recipe to order.)
Grand English Plum Pudding
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup candied fruit peel
1/4 cup cut-up candied cherries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cups soft bread crumbs
1 cup ground suet
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon brandy
1/4 cup brandy (optional)
Mix flour, spices, baking soda, and salt. Stir in fruit, walnuts, and bread crumbs. Mix suet, brown sugar, eggs, and 1 tablespoon brandy; stir into flour mixture. Pour into well-greased 4-cup mold; cover with aluminum foil.
Place mold on rack in Dutch oven; pour boiling water into Dutch oven to rack level. Cover and boil over low heat until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 3 hours.
Remove mold from Dutch oven; unmold. Heat 1/4 cup brandy until warm; ignite and pour over pudding. Serve with hard sauce.