Once upon a time, I was a Physics/Astronomy major. I spent 2 1/2 years in college studying the laws and beauty of our universe. I wanted to work for NASA. But, I fell out of love with it. I mean, I still like Physics and Astronomy. I just lost my desire to have it be the biggest part of my life.
So, of course, I knew about Stephen Hawking for many years. No, I have not read his books, but my professors discussed his theories – however cursorily – in classes. When I heard about his movie, I put it on my “definitely see this” list. It didn’t play at my local theatres for that long. In fact, I had to see the absolute last showing (at 10:30pm) last Thursday night if I wanted to see it before the DVD release.
I’m glad I did.
One of the taglines for this film is, “His mind changed our world. Her love changed his.” What a very fitting description of the movie. Based on Jane Hawking’s book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the movie chronicles Jane and Stephen’s relationship. It is a surprisingly honest portrayal of these two people.
If you’re expecting an in-depth examination of Stephen’s work and science, you will be disappointed. Remember, this is based on Jane’s book. Thus, the perspective is more from her point of view – it’s about the relationship and their life together, not his work. Oh, sure, his work is mentioned and is definitely a part of the movie, but it is not the overriding factor. Rather than depicting how his work “changed the world,” the movie shows the effect his work had on his life and relationships. Jane and Stephen met before he’d earned his Ph.D. and became a world-renowned scientist. It was also before he learned of his diagnosis.
In a rather appropriate move, the creators of the film chose to focus on specific periods in the Hawkings’ life. It would have been so easy to fall into the “let’s cover everything” trap. Instead, what we get is a “fast forward” through Stephen’s disease, the effects it has (or doesn’t have) on his work, but mostly, how it affects their lives. I thought this was done well and quite clearly. Though I never knew the exact year (other than the year they met) that events took place, I was very easily able to follow along and pinpoint the significant highlights of their lives. And those highlights were not what I initially expected. Again, the focus there was on their lives, not his work. So, rather than each of his scientific accomplishments being at the forefront, the story was framed by significant changes in his physical life – using a cane to walk, his first wheelchair, his first motorized wheelchair, etc. I really liked this storytelling frame.
I’d only seen Eddie Redmayne in My Week with Marilyn and Les Misérables. As for Felicity Jones, I saw her in Hysteria. But, in all honesty, I didn’t remember her work in that movie. Emily Dalrymple was a rather forgettable role. So, for all intents and purposes, Redmayne and Jones are still somewhat new in my cinematic world. But I have to say, after seeing this movie, I might just be in love with both of them. Each has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for their performances. If they aren’t nominated for Oscars, I will be surprised.
Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen was, in a word, flawless. His performance definitely pulled me so deeply into the movie that I completely forgot that I wasn’t watching Stephen Hawking. I mean, Hawking is a pretty darned popular guy – most, if not all, of us have seen him on TV in some way. Clearly, Redmayne did his research and immersed himself in this role.
Jane Hawking is less well-known to me, so it’s difficult to determine the “accuracy” of Jones’ portrayal. But her performance was no less affecting. It would have been easier to show Jane as being a rather unlikable character throughout most of the film – after all, she did walk a fine line when it came to infidelity. Instead, Jones plays her with a vulnerability and honesty that – I think appropriately – made me “take her side” through their family ordeals and her personal struggles.
So, yes, see this movie if you have the opportunity. This is one DVD I will be purchasing once it’s available.