Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Theory of Everything - where art meets science

How do you make a life-affirming film about a brilliant mind trapped in a body that does not work the way it should? You make it into a romance with a brave young heroine, add a few mind-blowing theories about black holes, and invite God to the party - then give everything a good spin, preferably reversing time as you go.

I enjoyed this biopic the same way I enjoyed the film Titanic - knowing what lies ahead for the characters just makes the early part of the story more poignant. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease while he was a 21 year old student at Cambridge, and given two years to live. Now 73, he has defied medical science and continues to amaze the world with his theories of the universe.

The film begins as a fairytale romance between Stephen, the slightly nerdy Science student, and his sweetheart Jane, a church-going Arts student who becomes his wife. It does not shy away from the tragedy of Stephen's condition, and I found myself looking away from the screen a few times during the medical procedures. The first time he falls down, I think the whole cinema winced. It's a powerful story, and also a clever one with the use of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time to give the film an extra dimension. (No, the unicorn is not telling you how - you'll have to go and see it yourself!)

There is much to be learned from films like this that do not rely upon special effects and huge budgets to attract audiences, yet somehow still do. It has that extra dimension that transforms the basic story from a tragedy/romance into something bigger than we are. Whether you call that something God or the Big Bang, whether Stephen Hawking is right about the universe or not, does not matter. It brings art and science together, and has reminded me about a novel I was trying to write a few years ago about a famous mathematician that contains the same themes. But you don't need to be a mathematician to enjoy this film. The Theory of Everything leaves you thinking about... well... everything.


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