First published on 'MS and Me' blog, 14th May 2015
I recently made a pact with a friend to go to see as many of this years Oscar winning films as possible, which were being screened at the arts centre where I work. With that in mind, we went to see biopic, 'The Theory of Everything' last week. I knew the film was about Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist, but didn't think about it much more than that. It was more a case of how quickly I could dash home from work, collect my children, pick up my friend and most importantly, get back to the arts centre in good time for a pre-screening glass of vino.
Early in the film, Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is presented as a wirey young academic in Cambridge University. He soon began to walk awkwardly, to drag his leg and then on one occasion, fell heavily on his face. I felt that slap in the face as much as he did. Then I felt the needle of his lumbar puncture, during the following medical investigations. The tears rolled down my face, as I related Hawking to my own early tests for MS. Darn it, I wasn't expecting that. I just wanted to see a film.
Hawking was his diagnosed with ALS, a form of Motor Neuron Disease (MND) around his 21st birthday. He was told that he had two years to live. At this stage, he had met a girlfriend, Jane (Felicity Jones), whom he married soon after and went on to have three children.
It was apparent in the film that Jane's role as carer was central to Hawking academic and publishing career, which went from strength to strength. Meanwhile, his health and physical state rapidly deteriorated. The film provided glimpses into Jane's role as carer, but it left me thinking about all that wasn't explored in the film. That awful word 'burden' crept into my mind - the thing that I never want to become.
There was a very moving scene where Hawking tried to climb the stairs to his infant son and couldn't. More tears. I needed tissues, but had none. Darn it again. Just as well I was wearing a scarf. 'Why are you crying Mam?’ my children whispered. I had hoped that they wouldn't notice me, in the darkness. I found it hard to whisper an explanation. Were the tears for Stephen or for me? Fear for what might be? Or maybe it was a universal sob for the curse of chronic illness? Maybe a combination of all.
Overall, it is an uplifting film about Hawking's truly extraordinary achievement, against the odds. It also provides lots of food for thought about the role of a carer. In Hawking's case, he later employed a carer, who went on to become his second wife, which has been subject to controversy. But this film really focuses on his earlier life, based on Jane's memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. I'm sure that the mundane reality was not as beautiful, but the film has a strong aesthetic, with dreamy cinematography. Jane's 1970's fashion made me want to root out all of my guna deas's from the wardrobe. The acting is super and the transformation in Hawking throughout the film is poignant. The film also provides a crash course for dummies (moi) on Hawking's theories. I feel like I know science stuff now.
I just wasn't prepared for how I would relate the film to my own health situation. If I was, I would have brought a multi pack of tissues. To state the obvious, I'm not Stephen Hawking. I don't have MND. I dig holes in the garden, but I don't 'do' black ones. I'm not a millionaire and am unlikely to be any time soon. If my health did deteriorate, I'd never be able to buy the care and support services that he can access. As a newly single person, I don't even have a 'Jane'. But I never want to be in the position to need a Jane. I'd prefer a Tarzan anyway. Preferably with more clothes on.
As we left the cinema, my little girl said, 'Mam, you look like a panda', noticing my mascara streaked face. My boy laughed. We all laughed.
Go see this film. Just remember to pack your hankies!