James Marsh’s Theory of Everything is not really about Stephen Hawking, or the growing celebrity of his brilliance, or the (im)possible reconciliation of Christianity and cosmology, or even the challenges of his marriage to Jane Wilde. All of these thematics are present, but all remain sentimental and broadly impressionistic, like the grainy yellow filter Benoît Delhomme uses for the Hawking marriage. I would venture to argue that the film is ‘about’ disability per se, in light of its obsessive use of extreme close-ups on fragmented body parts. The repetitive fracturing, distorting, and magnifying of bodies pull viewers in to a visceral attentiveness to physical capacity in a way that troubles the ableist assumption of smooth loops between thought, intention and bodily response without sequestering that troubling only in Stephen’s (Eddie Redmayne) increasingly incapacitated physicality. It is Jane (Felicity Jones) who says she needs help; it is Jonathan (Charlie Cox) who says he can’t continue assisting the family. Incapacities seep out of bodily contours and become relational inflections.
But as much as disability studies will certainly do amazing things with this film, ultimately the message seems to me to be time. Riffing on Hawking’s famous title, A Brief History of Time, especially the finitude and perspectivism underscored by the ‘brief’ in that title (inserted by Stephen as a kind of afterthought), the film opens and closes with images blurred to the point of incomprehensibility, and many many scenes include shots like this one of Stephen and his friend Brian (Harry Lloyd), in which the foreground or background is blurred out to create a cone of perspective around Stephen or Jane. Combined with dialogue that is filmed in shot/counter-shot of disembodied heads and the other extreme close-ups of bodily fragments, the film conveys the brevity of life and limitation of perspective as the brute facts against which are pitted the hugeness of the sheer joy of being-alive, the hunger for intellectual engagement and problem-solving, and the unboundedness of all sorts of loves. We live outside of ourselves, but our bodies and, well, time itself, pull us back into ourselves like a quantum instantiation of the swirling spiral of relativity’s expanding and contracting universe.
Photo #1, http://www.eonline.com/news/566822/stephen-hawking-biopic-the-theory-of-everything-trailer-released-movie-stars-eddie-redmayne-watch
Photo #2, http://www.eddieredmayne.org/?p=1901