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Film / The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of Everything is a 2014 Biopic about the life of Professor Stephen Hawking, from his years as a student at Cambridge to his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to the publishing of his book, A Brief History of Time. It is based on the book Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, written by Stephen's first wife Jane Wilde Hawking, who is played by Felicity Jones in the film.

The film garnered much praise, most directed to Eddie Redmayne's performance as Stephen which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

See also Hawking, another biopic of Hawking, which was televised.

This film provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Several commentators have noted that Stephen Hawking is portrayed more sympathetically than in Jane's memoir, the source material for the film.
  • Amicable Exes: Stephen and Jane in the end.
  • And I Must Scream: Downplayed. Even while Stephen's body deteriorates from his disease, to the point he completely loses his voice, he remains mostly affable about it, still possessing the ability to crack wise and otherwise doesn't seem affected. A few points, however, show him to be deeply frustrated by his failing body and how Jane keeps having to strain herself just to care for him.
  • As Himself: After seeing the film, Stephen Hawking loved it so much he allowed them to use his actual computerized voice.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment:
    • Done by the Russian professor when commenting on Hawking's speech at the auditorium: "I came here today expecting to hear a lot of nonsense. I go home disappointed. The little one here ... has done it!"
    • Stephen's family is expecting Jane to eventually get burnt out by taking care of Stephen, even at one point accusing her of having a child with another man. As it turns out, Stephen leaves her for the live-in nurse they hire after his tracheotomy.
  • Bookshelf of Authority: When Stephen Hawking is first called into Professor Sciama's office, there is a large bookshelf behind Sciama. Also, Hawking is in front of a bookshelf while explaining his theories about black holes to a board of three academic examiners.
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her:
    • Stephen tries to do this with Jane when he gets his diagnosis, citing that he'd rather focus on his work during the last two years of his life. She refuses to accept this, subverting the trope.
    • Stephen's father also tries the same thing, warning Jane that it will be tough to take care of Stephen as his condition worsens.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Stephen has bits of this while studying. He has a lack of interest in Dennis Sciama's lessons, but later says he was "only" able to solve nine out of ten of Sciama's "impossible questions." After Stephen receives his PhD, his Cambridge classmates joke that "'work' was a four-letter word" for him in his early days.
  • The Cameo: Emily Watson has one scene as Jane's mother.
  • Daydream Surprise: Stephen gets up out of his chair and retrieves a student's dropped pen, deliberately confusing the viewing audience until it becomes clear that it was only a daydream - he's still in his chair.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: On the camping site, we see Jane sneaking out of her family tent and into Jonathan's. We can assume this was the first time they got intimate.
  • Emotionally Tongue-Tied: An unusual case. At one point, Stephen (who has already lost his voice) has something difficult to tell Jane. We see the sentence appear on the screen of his synthesiser, and it stays there, unspoken, for a several seconds. It looks like he's thinking of deleting it, but he does eventually say it.
  • Foreshadowing: The soap opera Stephen is watching when Jane enters (after the diagnosis) foreshadows the complexity of their married life.
  • From Bad to Worse: Stephen's condition is incurable, and his body continues to break down from ALS after his marriage. It culminates in him needing a tracheotomy, which deprives him of his ability to speak. At first it seems he can have a semi-normal life, with two kids and only having to move the bed downstairs. Then the kids get unruly, he gets harder to take care of, his wife can't focus on her own work; he can't afford paid help, and then she gets Mistaken for Cheating when a widowed choirmaster starts helping.
  • Genius Cripple: Hawking is physically crippled, yet a brilliant mind.
  • Imagine Spot: At the end of the film, Stephen sees someone drop a pen. He then imagines himself stepping out of his wheelchair and returning it to her.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged:
    • Naturally. It's a film about Stephen Hawking as he overcomes his body getting weaker and weaker from ALS.
    • The film also serves as a Deconstruction; while Stephen's mind remains brilliant, he is shown as a flawed human being while his body deteriorates. He makes references to sex like a normal man would, sneaks beer into church to drink it with Jonathan, gets frustrated as he loses motor control, and eventually leaves Jane despite her years of faithfulness and being The Caretaker.
  • Laugh of Love:
    • Jane tends to do this when she's with Stephen, who reciprocates (at first, but eventually loses the ability to do that), as does his second wife, Elaine.
    • Jane also sometimes does this when talking to Jonathan, whom she eventually marries after she and Stephen get divorced.
  • Love Cannot Overcome: Double Subverted. Jane is warned of how hard taking care of Stephen will be, and we can see the strain on her. Despite all that, she sticks by Stephen and her children even when tempted by Jonathan, who is healthy and kind. As it turns out, Stephen cannot overcome.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Stephen's mother believes that Timothy, their youngest child, is actually Jonathan's. Jane is naturally offended at this accusation.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: When traveling to Bordeaux and also at the Bordeaux Airport we can see snow-covered mountains. There are no such mountains in the Aquitaine region.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The opening scene (blurish yellow) is disorienting and we don't exactly see what is going on. In the final moments of the movie we learn that this scene played out in the lobby of Buckingham Palace before the Queen arrives to give Stephen his Companion of Honour medal.
  • Opposites Attract: Stephen is an atheist, Jane is an Anglican. Subverted when Stephen leaves her to be with Elaine.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Stephen delivers one towards the end.
    Stephen: There ought to be something very special about the boundary conditions of the universe. And what can be more special than that there is no boundary? And there should be no boundary to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there is life, there is hope.
  • Phlebotinum Analogy: Stephen has trouble speaking, so Jane uses peas and potatoes to explain physics to Jonathan.
  • Poor Communication Kills: After his tracheotomy that Jane ordered to save his life, Stephen can no longer speak. Jane tries to communicate with him via colored letters, but she can't understand him. This is the beginning of the end of their marriage, especially since the live-in nurse they hire can understand him better.
  • Shout-Out: Especially in the scene where he's trying out the voice synthesizer, saying phrases such as "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true." and "Exterminate! Exterminate!"
  • Smart People Play Chess: There's a set chess board in Stephen's dorm room, and he hides book of chess puzzles under the table while listening to his physics tutor.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Jane. She never really cracks, despite the situation she finds herself in, and maintains an equanimous composure throughout. Her mother represents a more amusing example with this marvellous exchange:
    Beryl: Jane....I think you should consider joining the church choir.
    Jane: Mum, I think that's possibly the most English thing that anyone has ever said.
  • Tactful Translation: When Stephen and Jane have Jonathan over for dinner, they have a discussion about Stephen's view of the universe and whether God fits into it. Jane mostly repeats what Stephen says in slurred speech for Jonathan's benefit, but when Stephen gets around to explaining that quantum mechanics cause everything to go "tits up", Jane tactfully editorializes it to "haywire".
  • Terminology Title: The title refers to a putative theory of theoretical physics that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena.
  • The Last Dance: Stephen after getting his diagnosis wants to focus on his work, on time. At it turns out, he ironically has more time than the doctors told him.
  • Translator Buddy: As Stephen's verbal abilities deteriorate, Jane has to act as his interpreter.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: Twice.
    • When young Hawking and Jane swirl around on the grass and the scenes cuts into the classroom with his teacher.
      Hawking (with Jane): You've got to get back to the beginning of time. Keep winding. Keep winding until you get ...
      Professor (in classroom): ... a singularity?
    • When a student at a pub explains Hawking's Black Hole theory to his fellows, the exposition talk cuts over to the auditorium where Hawking finishes the sentence started by the student.
      Student (pub): If we can imagine that a black hole is, indeed, losing particles and over time, will diminish in size, it will evaporate, it will ...
      Hawking (auditorium) : ... disappear.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Jonathan has this with Jane, and he backs away every time she needs to focus on her husband.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film takes a few artistic liberties with Stephen Hawking's life in the interest of better narrative flow. For example, in the film's sequence of events, he loses the ability to speak, decides to write A Brief History of Time, separates from Jane, and reconciles with her before going to Buckingham Palace to be made a CBE. In reality, he was made a CBE in 1982, started drafting A Brief History of Time in 1984, lost the ability to speak in 1985, and separated from Jane in 1990, only reconciling with her after his divorce from Elaine Mason in 2006.
  • What You Are in the Dark: After Stephen lapses into coma, Jane is given the option to either give the Do Not Resuscitate Order or have the hospital perform a tracheotomy, which will rob Stephen of his ability to speak. The doctor advises the former since the latter could be A Fate Worse Than Death, or Stephen could die despite the surgery, in pain. Jane at this point is having Unresolved Sexual Tension with Jonathan, a widower, and she has been taking care of Stephen for years now. Instead of going for the DNR, she chooses the tracheotomy, even though after it Stephen can no longer speak and he divorces her after falling for the live-in nurse they have to hire.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: At the end, an intertitle informs of what Hawking and his wife are up to currently.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Stephen is told he has 2 years to live. He eventually passed away in 2018, over 50 years later.