Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Theory of Everything

However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope.

The Theory of Everything is the movie adaptation of the memoir, "Travelling To Infinity: My Life with Stephen" by Jane Wilde Hawking directed by James Marsh. The movie is primarily about Jane and Stephen's relationship set amidst his diagnosis of motor neuron disease and his work on the beginning of time, the origins of the universe and black holes. It is important to realize that The Theory of Everything is not a completely accurate portrayal of the Hawking's life together, but that some dramatic liberties were taken with the story to make it appealing to movie audiences.

Stephen Hawking was born in 1942 in Oxford, England. Hawking had three siblings, Mary, Philippa and an adopted brother, Edward. Hawking attended St. Albans School where the family had moved for his father's work. After graduating St Albans he attended University College, Oxford where he obtained a first class honours degree in Natural Science (Physics). Stephen then studied Cosmology at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy under the supervision of Denis Sciama. He obtained his PhD and became a Research Fellow and then a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.From 1979 until 2009, Stephen held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.

Stephen Hawking's website best explains the nature of his work in the field of Cosmology:
"Stephen Hawking has worked on the basic laws which govern the universe. With Roger Penrose he showed that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. These results indicated that it was necessary to unify General Relativity with Quantum Theory, the other great Scientific development of the first half of the 20th Century. One consequence of such a unification that he discovered was that black holes should not be completely black, but rather should emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear. Another conjecture is that the universe has no edge or boundary in imaginary time. This would imply that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science."
Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963 and given two years to live. However, the form of neuron disease Hawking has is one that progresses slowly.  Around this time he met his future wife, Jane Wilde, who was studying Romance languages. They married in 1965 and had three children. The Theory of Everything begins at the point where the two meet at a party and follows their courtship, marriage and family life, all the while, Stephen gradually becomes increasingly disabled as a result of his motor neuron disease. We watch as he progresses from one cane to using two canes, and then from a simple wheelchair to a motorized chair. When a tracheotomy destroys his remaining ability to speak, Hawking must learn to communicate using a special e-Trans board. Through it all, Hawking continues to forge ahead in the area of theoretical physics with his theories of the beginnings of the universe and this is poignantly presented in the film. He is on a quest to find "a single unifying equation that explains everything in the universe."

Hawking is well portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, an English actor and singer. In fact one of the movies greatest strengths is Redmayne's brilliant portrayal of how Hawking was affected by his disease and how he continued on with his life, undaunted. Giving even more authenticity to Redmayne's performance is that Hawking allowed them to use his synthesized voice, which is copyright protected. He did this after viewing the film. Felicity Jones gives a solid performance as  Hawking's wife, Jane Wilde, who cared for Hawking for almost thirty years before the collapse of their marriage.

As expected, the portrayal of Hawking and Wilde is not a faithful one. For example, the Hawkings were married for almost thirty years but at the end of the movie when they had reconciled after their divorce, new marriages and his second divorce, their children are shown as teenagers and not as the adults they would have been. Several scenes in the movie simply never happened, for example,  the croquet game and his choking at a concert of Wagner music. Hawking did not require a tracheotomy at this time but after being on a ventilator for several months.

I sometimes found the movie presented a confusing view as to whether or not Hawking believes in God. His first wife, Jane, was religious and this is portrayed throughout the movie. However, while Hawking in apologetically atheist at the beginning of the movie, later on he seems to gradually come to some sort of belief in a God. This is not his position at present. Hawking recently stated the following:
"We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful."

However, Father Barron writes the following in an excellent blog post on the movie:
"It is always fascinating to go to roots of an argument, that is to say, to the fundamental assumptions that drive a rational quest, for in so doing, we necessarily leave the realm of the purely rational and enter something like the realm of the mystical. Why in the world would a scientist blithely assume that there is or is even likely to be one unifying rational form to all things, unless he assumed that there is a singular, overarching intelligence that has placed it there? Why shouldn’t the world be chaotic, utterly random, meaningless? Why should one presume that something as orderly and rational as an equation would describe the universe’s structure? I would argue that the only finally reasonable ground for that assumption is the belief in an intelligent Creator, who has already thought into the world the very mathematics that the patient scientist discovers. In turning his back on what he calls “a celestial dictator,” Stephen Hawking was indeed purging his mind of an idol, a silly simulacrum of God, but in seeking, with rational discipline for the theory of everything, he was, in point of fact, affirming the true God."

The Theory of Everything is a good start for those who may know very little about this amazing scientist and the fascination areas of cosmology, quantum physics and relativity. It is a dramatized version of his life and his work, but Hawking himself was pleased with the movie, in particular Redmayne's portrayal of which he stated, "At times, I thought he was me."

I recommend reading Stephen Hawking's autobiography, "My Brief History" to get the true story on his life and his research into singularities and black holes. It's very readable, although the science is very abstract.

There is much information about Hawking's personal life and his scientific work at his website, Stephen Hawking.

For those who would like to learn more about Hawking, Errol Morri's documentary A Brief History of Time is also recommended.

The movie trailer can be watched below:


No comments: