Stephen Hawking: The Theory of Everything and the ugly truth
I recently watched the movie ‘The Theory of Everything‘, which is a biopic about the life of the brilliant scientist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, based on his first wife’s Jane Wilde’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.
I found the actor personifying Hawking, 32 years old Eddie Redmayne, truly amazing in his performance. I was especially impressed by reading how he prepared for his role. Hawking (aged 72) has been suffering of ASL, amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, since the age of 22. To understand this condition better, Redmayne met doctors specialized in neuromuscular diseases. He studied as many pictures of the scientist as he could (as there were no videos prior to 1980) and he researched Hawking’s life in detail.
As the disease changes overtime, the body is affected by rigidity first, and then wilting, so the actor had to be able to recreate that effect in his own body. Apparently, he damaged his spine in constantly keeping Hawking’s posture, and became an expert in twitching a muscle in his cheek, necessary for Hawking in order to activate the speech synthesizer. Redmayne even sought aid in one of Hawking’s ex- students and now head of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London, to get a better grasp of the science in the movie.
The movie differs from others based on Hawking’s discoveries and achievements, as it mainly focuses on his relationship with his first wife, Jane. Hawking met Jane at Cambridge, where he was a doctorate student and she was studying medieval Spanish literature.
Once Hawking is diagnosed with ASL, he is given two years to live. Initially, Hawking experiences a period of profound depression. Despite his degenerative disease, Jane is determined to marry him, and he agrees. Over the years, the couple has three children.
Hawking ‘s star rises in the world of physics. He becomes famous, but he refuses any outside care. Jane dutifully acts as his nurse, but conflicts starts to ensue. She finds comfort in joining a church choir and soon starts a platonic relationship with the choirmaster, whose role within her family is not always clear. At first, he offers to assist the family, even in the daily chores (including taking care of Hawking) and in teaching piano to Hawking’s children. Later, although his relationship with Jane becomes openly more intimate, he is still happily hanging around within the family.
Hawking later admitted that he accepted their relationship as he was not sure he could live much longer and he wanted his family to be taken care of by someone trustworthy. Jane never told Stephen that she was in love with Jonathan, until Elaine Mason, the pretty red-haired nurse, came along.
This is how the movie ends, letting us imagine a happy conclusion for the two couples: Jane with the choirmaster and Hawking with Elaine. Hawking and Elaine will eventually get married when Elaine abandons her husband (David Mason, the engineer who first set to work on a speech synthesizer integrated into Hawking’s software, which changed the scientist’s life) leaving him to take care of their two children.
But here comes the ugly truth. There have been allegations of abuse and violence –mental as well as physical – perpetrated by Elaine on Hawking during the 17 years of their life together. These were reported to the police by Hawking’s nurse staff and even by Hawking’s daughter, Lucy: cut, bruises, a broken wrist, a cut lip, swollen limbs, a black eye, all accompanied by various visits to the Cambridge Hospital. Once, Hawking had been even left stranded out in the sun on the hottest day of the year, after which he suffered heatstroke and sunburn. Another time, he was let to slip down in the bath and the water went into the hole in his throat and, in another occasion, he was humiliated and forced to wet himself.
Despite all this evidence, Hawking always denied all the allegations, never cooperating with the authorities, and described these episodes as ‘incidents’. Therefore, two investigations brought no charges.
The couple finally filed for divorce in 2006, but apparently no reference to these allegations were part of the divorce papers lodged by both parties. Obviously, Elaine walked away from Stephen’s house much richer than when she stepped in first.
What leaves us astounded, it is the thought of a genius who cannot break free from abuse, even when given various possibilities. Could it really be that the world’s most famous living scientist, who must rely on others to help him perform basic human functions, is such a proud man? Probably Hawking never wanted to admit the final indignity: being a maltreated husband and showing the world how his vulnerability was leaving him unable to defend himself even against his own wife.
The man who, at 15, was rocked when he learned that the universe was expanding. The man who concluded that the black hole is not all black, but it emits a stream of particles, known as “Hawking radiation”. The man who, for all his life, tried to reconcile the quantum mechanics with general relativity, looking for the theory of everything… This man was brainwashed and manipulated by a merry red-haired nurse, who all along thought to be the only one who could actually care for him.
Geniuses are hard to understand. They are often single-minded and want to convince the world of the validity of their decisions.
On a recent BBC interview, Hawking said that :“Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate”. I believe that nothing can surpass humans in terms of intelligence, shrewdness as well as foolishness and viciousness.