The Theory of Everything is a sincere film that offers everything – academic drama, tortured love, the triumph of the human spirit – and the accolades have not been short in coming. But one thing it won’t be collecting is a trophy for its atheistic definition of love.
Based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity, this is the story of Jane Wilde and her marriage to world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Eddie Redmayne stars as the young Stephen and Felicity Jones the young Jane, who meet in Cambridge while working on their doctorates. Their relationship flowers in the fair weather of 1963 but darker days are ahead. Stephen’s muscles begin to betray him and a doctor informs him that he has a condition that will eventually imprison him in his own body:
Doctor: “It’s called motor neuron disease. Life expectancy is two years.”
Stephen: “The brain, what about the brain?”
Doctor: “Your thoughts won’t change, it’s just, no one will know what they are.”
Stephen becomes a recluse, desperate to achieve something in his last two years. But Jane refuses to let him retreat into himself. She tells Stephen she loves him and they begin to build a life together. With Jane’s support they start a family and Stephen is able to bring his revolutionary theories on time and space to the world. Yet his condition is a black hole sucking away his ability to interact. Eventually his voice will be replaced with a computer synthesizer even as he creates the international best seller A Brief History of Time. However the pressure has become too much for Jane and their marriage collapses. But by the end of the film they will still be able to teach us there is a greater force than gravity binding them together.
Stephen Hawking’s personal story is immensely inspiring and Redmayne’s performance pitch perfect, bringing out both the light and shade of his subject’s character. However like Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking has become synonymous with a certain way of viewing the world. His devotion to only what can be examined by the scientific method has led him to tell the world:
“It is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.”
– and The Theory of Everything is not afraid of combining this atheistic viewpoint with its sympathetic hero:
Jane: “So, I take it you’ve never been to church?”
Stephen: “Once upon a time.”
Jane: “Tempted to convert?”
Stephen: “I have a slight problem with the celestial dictatorship premise.”
Film Stephen’s manifest intellect gives borrowed credibility to his atheism, even though Real Stephen would agree that science can have nothing to say about unobservable forces. The fact that it reinforces our own ability to choose makes it all the more palatable. But what does Hawking’s life have to say about the effectiveness of this philosophy?
Despite its heady, self-realising scientific realism, The Theory of Everything is not prepared to surrender life to the emptiness that atheism suggests. Instead of a moral black hole at the centre of its story, the film suggests that love links people together in a way that mere atoms can’t. Jane and Stephen may no longer be married, but that doesn’t mean can’t express wonder together as they look on their children: “Look what we made.” But what sort of love is this?
Without God to anchor it to self-sacrifice and service, love in The Theory of Everything becomes little more than appreciation. So why wouldn’t Jane leave Stephen for their friend Jonathan when his affection is more comforting than her husband’s condition? Likewise, why wouldn’t Stephen leave Jane for his nurse Elaine when she offers such understanding of his predicament? God would certainly be a ‘celestial dictator’ to deny such obvious relief and happiness.
What if such self-serving love were actually more destructive than any black hole Hawking might theorise? The accommodation Jane and Stephen come to works for the big screen, but the children of The Theory of Everything are conveniently silent. Furthermore the film neglects to mention that Hawking’s second marriage met the same fate as his first. Off the screen self-serving love – love that maintains there is no-one to define love – destroys more than it creates. Not so God’s idea of love. Far from being a dictator, He is the servant at the centre of the universe, and His theory of love the force that holds every relationship together.
Release Date: January 29, 2015