Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Stephen Hawking: from black holes to film

A personal review of the Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar. His performance as Stephen Hawking in the Theory of Everything is truly outstanding. I saw the film recently at Imperial College's Union Cinema. I found it very moving on a number of levels.

The screening at Imperial College was preceded by a physics lecture. The professor had acted as an advisor during the making of the film. The film itself only really touches on Hawking's scientific contributions. It keeps to the more personal side of his story and is based on his ex-wife's book.

Creative scientific mind
It was Stephen Hawking who dealt with science's "mental block" over black holes. It often takes someone with great creativity of insight to make an important step towards new thinking. Hawking's great insight was that black holes are hot. In the film, we see how that creative leap came about. His wife had to leave the disabled scientist halfway through dressing to attend to their baby upstairs. Hawking got his head stuck in his jumper. He grew hot peering through the jumper's threads at the fire in the grate. The heat provided the inspiration he needed.

For me, the film had some deep personal and family resonances:

1. Shock of Hawking's ALS diagnosis
In his twenties, Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The doctor's stark announcement gave him just two years to live. It brought back the debilitating shock of sitting in Frenchay Hospital in Bristol one Christmas. I sat with my devastated mother awaiting the outcome of my youngest sister's operation for a spinal blood clot. She was also in her twenties. Her odds were judged as even worse: a 5% chance of survival and paralysis from the neck down if she survived. She survived. Despite paralysis in her left side, she still walks today. A story of sheer willpower like Hawking. The scientist has lived for an additional 50 years.

2. Humour
The film had some very funny moments. Hawking's humour has obviously often kept him, family and friends going through difficult times. My sister was the only survivor from her friends on the ward. I shall never forget the often black humour. Laughter rang out as the patients sought to sustain each other.

3. Real life
The film does not gloss over the difficult choices and agonising decisions. It reflects the trials and tribulations of real life. I really felt for Jane Hawking at times. The Hawkings' marriage ultimately failed. I loved Stephen Hawking's wonder at the three children that he and his former wife had made together. I too now marvel at my own two "babies", as they tower over me.

In a lecture at the end of the film, Hawking is asked about his philosophy of life. He speaks of boundaries.
"There should be no boundary to human endeavour. No matter how bad life seems, there is always something you can do and succeed at. While there is life, there is hope.”

Karen Andrews runs
Anglicity Ltd. She is a
freelance content writer
and French to English
translator. In this blog, 
Karen draws upon her 
both her work and life 

Please contact Karen via email karen@anglicity.com or call +44 (0)20 8581 9369 to discuss Anglicity's content services.

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