The Theory of Everything

The movie I chose for our assignment was The Theory of Everything. I believe that the title itself is captivating. The theory of everything? What does this mean? How might it relate to our anthropology class? Well, the movie is about Stephen Hawking’s life. I am sure you know who Stephen Hawking is, but for those who do not, he is a scientist of theoretical physics. He proposes ideas, or theories, and then attempts to prove that they are probable by using mathematical and scientific evidence. His work has been credited with high regard, and his ideas are thorough and he uses astonishingly convincing arguments to explain his concepts. The Theory of Everything, shows us how Stephen went from a healthy teenage college boy, to a man with severe motor neuron disease bound indefinitely to a wheelchair, and only able to speak with the aide of a computer. The movie illustrates to us the evolution of Stephen’s disease and how it affected his work, his family, and his personal relationships. I chose this movie because we have learned about disease throughout the entirety of this class and have seen how it is looked at differently across cultures. Stephen Hawking’s particular case takes place in England, an area we haven’t looked at really specifically in class. I thought I would attempt to tie Stephen’s story in with what we have learned about people and disease. I also want to compare and contrast Stephen’s life threatening disease and his different experiences with Lia Lee’s for The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

In the movie, while Stephen is pursuing his PhD at the prestigious University of Cambridge he has a fainting episode and, upon awakening, finds himself in a hospital and diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS. This is a terminal illness and Stephen was given the approximation of living for perhaps two more challenging years. This diagnosis made me think of Lia Lee. How different the situations explained here were. Lia, a foreigner in America, a child, and misdiagnosed was ill, just as Stephen, but the differences between the two cases are uncountable. Lia had numerous mistakes that ultimately led to her being in a vegetative state and required the immediate hands-on help of her family. Stephen, also needed the physical help of his friends or family, but the conclusion to his story is quite favorable in relation to Lia’s.

Lia and Stephen obviously had two completely different diseases, but both can teach us something different. What we can learn, as we have learned throughout this course, is that medicine is not the same wherever we go in the world. Stephen, had great medical care, correct diagnosis, and found a way to communicate vocally (even though through a computerized voice) when surgery required him to lose his speech. Lia and her family, on the other hand, were fully capable of using speech, but the disconnect was in the language itself. Thus, we see how Stephen, who shared a common language with his doctors, may have had an easier time while hospitalized than Lia Lee. How might Lia’s situation have been different if she had Hmong speaking medical staff for her entire sickness? Lia’s story has such a devastating outcome and perhaps the language barrier between patient and doctor was the reason for his ‘mishandled’ case. Stephen, on the contrary, is along the lines of being regarded a medical miracle. His ALS has seemed to stabilize, and he is now over the age of seventy years old (McCoy, 2015). Lia was not so fortunate; she never got to experience a life that we regard as ‘normal’. I’m sure both of the outcomes we are discussing do not solely rely on the ease of language exchange between the patient and doctor, but it certainly played a big role in both cases and shows why they differ so vastly.

So, as we learned earlier in the semester, medicine is so different all across the world. It is different for Stephen’s case, different for Lia’s case, and different for you and I, if one of us were to be diagnosed. The idea of medicine is not the only thing that people have different ideas about though. In, The Theory of Everything, Stephen discusses his thoughts of how the universe came into existence. He contradicts viewpoints that involve a god or gods, and strives to find a perfect equation that would reveal to us how and why we are here. Much like medicine, the ideas of the origin of the universe vary from group to group, culture to culture. Richard Dawkins writes about different tribes beliefs, in relation to the start of the universe as we know it. Different tribes have their own stories that you may find odd, unordinary, or downright silly (Dawkins, 2011). Much like medicine, if we accept people’s beliefs, rituals, customs, and traditions, then we can learn something new and exciting. What this movie has taught me is that it is okay to form whatever opinion you feel about our existence and that just like medicine, your own ideas are influenced by where and how you live. So there is potentially no definite right or wrong answer, as long as multiple opinions are viewed with an open mind you are bound to learn something new.

I think this would be a great film to watch on your own time, but perhaps not as an assignment for our specific ANP 370 class. Though it does tie in some of the concepts we have discussed in relation to disease, the movie focuses quite heavily on the relationship between Stephen and his significant other. I do highly recommend watching this movie if you are interested in Stephen Hawking, and the incredible work he has done in the fields of cosmology  and theoretical physics. (Not to mention Eddie Redmayne does an excellent job portraying Hawking. He won an Oscar for best male actor in a starring role for his performance.)

This is a picture of Stephen Hawking (portrayed by Eddie Redmayne) and his now ex-wife, Jane Wilde (portrayed by Felicity Jones).

Dawkins, Richard. The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. New York: Free Press, 2011.

McCoy, Terrance. “How Stephen Hawking, diagnosed with ALS decades ago, is still alive,” The Washington Post (2015). Accessed August 12, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/02/24/how-stephen-hawking-survived-longer-than-possibly-any-other-als-patient/

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