Hollywood theoretical physics week, focusing on quantum gravity and black holes, continues with the opening this weekend of The Theory of Everything, a Stephen Hawking biopic. It’s quite good, although a bit too heart-warming for my taste. The focus is on the relationship between Hawking and his wife Jane, and there’s quite a bit more emphasis on religion than can really be justified. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Eddie Redmayne gets an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking. It’s very impressively well-done, and the sort of inspirational material the Academy Awards people love.
There are things you could complain about in the film’s portrayal of the science (and Dennis Overbye does so here), but this was handled better than I expected, with some reasonable relationship to reality, given the constraints of this kind of movie. In every way, a better film than Interstellar, the other Hollywood theoretical physics movie of the week.
Watching the film did remind me of days long past. When I was a graduate student in Princeton I remember Hawking coming there to give a talk (or talks?), this would have been around 1980. He was talking about Euclidean quantum gravity, and at the time was still able to speak, but his speech was so indistinct that someone who worked with him translated, repeating what he said so everyone could understand. At the time, the general feeling was something like “great physicist, too bad the guy only has a year or two to live” (he did come close to passing away in 1985). I’m absolutely sure that no one then would have believed it possible that he’d go on to become a huge celebrity, make it through two failed marriages, sell 10 million books about physics, and still be with us and active deep into retirement age. Personally I thought a lot of his last book was misguided (see here) but his is an amazing story and he’s got a lot better excuse than his able-bodied colleagues for giving up and going for the multiverse.