With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
It came down to Unbroken and The Theory of Everything. Both were playing at a theater within walking distance. Yes, A Night at the Museum 3 and the Hobbit movie were also playing, but they were not serious contenders.
We watched trailers for both films and my bride chose the one that didn’t have “a lot of war in it”. So the Stephen Hawking story it was.
I knew Hawking’s first wife Jane had a say into what would be in the film but I did not make the connection that it was her story. It was only as the credits rolled amidst supernovas hurtling through the cosmos I noticed the film was adapted from Jane’s memoir of her life with Stephen.
It has always been easy for me to suspend disbelief and instead believe in films. I often let the performances guide me. Performances are often as good as the screenplay allows. The screenplay is about their relationship, not about his achievements, leaving the audience in a bit of a quandary.
There is no doubt that Hawking is one of the great geniuses of the last 100 years. This film is not about that. It is about the struggle of marriage with children with an added difficulty of an incapacitated partner. It is a soap opera with a heart-tugging piano score by Johann Johannsson. It is a neatly packaged series of love triangles, trials and triumphs jerking every tear possible. It is a story of an extraordinary woman who sacrifices everything for a man who suddenly inexplicably rejects her.
The problem with the screenplay comes from basing the film on the one-sided perspective of the spurned Jane. Ultimately, Stephen comes off looking like an ungrateful asshole. I left the theater honestly wondering what was true and what wasn’t. My disbelief was no longer suspended.
Everything said and done, I liked the film for the following reason: Felicity Jones. It’s no surprise the audience should come away from the film with respect for her portrayal as Jane Hawking. She was the long-suffering, stalwart holding the family together through all difficult times. But Jones played her with restraint. It wasn’t a showy performance with impassioned speeches. She quietly showed her strength in deliberate assertive actions and determined gazes and still managed to break my heart. She expertly displayed how tough marriage with children can be when you do it alone, how it wears you down, keeps you from possibly achieving your own goals and somehow, is something you just continue to find the strength to do day after day.
Most of time I can recall the one moment that an actress just nailed it, cementing her ability to forever devastate me. Jones performance was one uninterrupted moment of quiet devastation. I’m late coming to the 31- year-old’s party but she makes me eager for what she might do next.