The Theory Of Everything
Starring: Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables), Felicity Jones (The Amazing Spiderman 2)
Director: James Marsh (Man on a Wire, 2008)
Writers: Anthony McCarten (screenplay), Jane Hawking (book)
Distributor: Focus Features (in U.S.)
Artistically Done, Beautifully Acted
This is a movie about the man some Christians may see as their enemy—the famous, atheist/physicist Stephen Hawking who wrote the global best seller: A Brief History of Time. What makes the film laudable is the fact it is based on the book, Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen (2007), by Hawking’s former wife, Jane Hawking, who is a devout Christian. Fortunately, for us, filmmakers did not choose her first book about their relationship, Music to Move the Stars: A Life with Stephen (1999), to capture their lives together because it would have been a much darker view of the physicist. Perhaps, during those years she was able to forgive him and see their marriage in a more positive light.
Thankfully, the focus of the movie is also not his beliefs, though there is a sampling of them sprinkled throughout the movie. It is nice to see that Jane is not intimidated by his intellect or academic stature and holds tenaciously to her faith. Her witness for Christ, though, is less heard than it is seen by her actions. She marries him knowing that he may only live a few years (the normal prognosis for those with Lou Gehrig’s disease). She diligently cares for him year after year as his body deteriorates. In fact, it is her faith that literally saves him at one point when a doctor suggests to her to take him off a ventilator and let him die. “No,” she says emphatically, “he is going back to Cambridge.”
A case could be made whether she should have married him in the first place based on 2 Corinthians 6:14, which states: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers (NIV).” Yet, having made that decision, she makes the best of it.
A crisis occurs when Jane finally comes to the conclusion that she simply cannot emotionally and physically care for him anymore by herself. They are riding in the car when she responds adamantly to his comment that they are a “normal” family: “I need help. And, we are not a normal family.” That aid ultimately comes in the form of a choir director who Jane meets after joining a church choir. It turns out that this man, Jonathan Jones, is recently widowed and has a lot of free time to help their family. He becomes a kind of surrogate co-dad by physically playing with the children and going with them to the beach, camping, etc. Unfortunately, his closeness with the family eventually complicates things as he and Jane develop feelings for one another.
Stephen, on the other hand, decides to travel with his overbearing nurse to America without Jane—the death knell to their marriage. One of the most touching scenes of the movie is when Jane responds to this announcement by getting on her knees with tears in her eyes, putting her two hands over his and saying, “I have loved you.” Watching her devotion throughout the movie, you know she did.
Several times during the movie Stephen Hawking says that he is looking for “the one single unifying equation that explains the universe.” I daresay that it can be reduced to one word: God.
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate…For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:10-21).
*A part they could have left out was a scene where Stephen Hawking’s nurse is forcing him to look at a Penthouse magazine (nothing is really seen, however).
The Man Who Knew Infinity
The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015) PG-13
Starring: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones
Writer: Matthew Brown (screenplay), Robert Kanigel (book with same name)
Director: Matthew Brown
Distributor: IFC Films (USA)
Srinivasa Ramanujan was a mathematical genius from India in the early 20th century. He believes that there is form and patterns in everything indicating a god-stamp on all creation. He develops theorems that challenge the greatest mathematical minds in England. So much so, Professor G.H. Hardy invites him to study with him at Trinity College, a part of Cambridge University in England.
Hardy is an atheist and his colleague, John Littlewood, is a Christian. When Ramanujan first arrives in England, Littlewood tells his friend, Hardy, if he believes in Ramanujan's work "you will have to reconsider your unbelief in God." Later, Littlewood writes to Hardy from the battlefield of WWI to say he doesn't know what is going to happen to him but he, unlike Hardy, has a God to comfort him.
Although this film is well-acted by Irons playing Hardy and Patel, playing Ramanujan, the fact that Ramanujan gives credit to his amazing discoveries to the Hindu goddess, Namagiri, is troubling coming from the main character. In recent years, movies like Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Million Dollar Arm (2014) this one a year later, and Lion* (2016)--showing winsome Hindu or Muslim Indian believers with extraordinary talents or stories--shows how much these religions are infiltrating into mainstream, western culture and pushing for acceptance and credibility.
The film is interesting and inspiring in the sense a man overcomes racial prejudice and eventually becomes officially recognized in the academic world, but on the spiritual plane the fact that it presents goddess worship and superstition (Ramanujan also wears a red cloth bracelet to ward off evil spirits) and links them to great achievements through an endearing character is deceiving.
*Muslim and Hindu religions are both presented more positively than Christianity in the book (see the review of A Long Way Home on this website)--less so in the movie.
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people" (2 Timothy 2:5 & 6).
Always important to keep in mind that great achievement does not necessarily validate a person's belief system or lifestyle
The Man Who Invented Christmas
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) PG
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Morfydd Clark
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Writers: Susan Coyne (screenplay), Les Standiford (book)
Distributor: Bleecker Street Media
If you don’t mind a story about Christmas that never mentions whose birthday we’re celebrating but rather focuses on how Charles Dickens came to write his best known work, A Christmas Carol, you will probably enjoy this movie. If you are a writer, you will love it because it shows the challenges of being an author and the creative process in an unusual way. For example, at the start we see Dickens in desperate financial straits.
Although the author had a major literary triumph with his earlier book, Oliver Twist, his last three books were dismal failures. On top of all that, his wife is pregnant with their fifth child. He must, therefore, come up with a successful money maker or he could be done as a writer. But the inspiration is slow in coming. He begins to get bits and pieces of a story, however, through people that he meets--a maid telling a ghost story to his children, a self-made man saying the poor are better off dying, a man at a funeral saying "Bah. Humbug."
There is a funny scene where Dickens is acting like his main character with exaggerated gestures and sounding out names for him: “Scratch. Scrunge.” When he finally hits on the name we all know so well “Scrooge” he smiles with satisfaction. Perfect. And then on cue, Scrooge enters his room and begins conversing with his creator. Other characters from the story also come alive, interact, and sometimes follow Dickens around.
There are also flashbacks as well to Dickens' difficult childhood—the time he was left alone to work in a factory while his father went to debtor’s prison; the bullying he endured as a child; and the poverty his family suffered as a result of his father’s failure to provide the basics. All true from the author's life. Yet, as dark as it sometimes gets, actor Dan Stevens does a marvelous job of keeping things light with amusing facial expressions and humorous asides. Christopher Plummer also gives a wonderful performance as Scrooge. When Dickens says he is glad to meet him, Scrooge replies dryly: “I cannot say the same for you.”
Although, as a Christian, I thought the film would have been better if Jesus was mentioned somewhere as the reason for the season, when Dickens asks himself: “Can a man change in one night?” it is profound and the end of his story suggests a person can---that is with some supernatural help beforehand.
No, Jesus is not mentioned in this film, but His fingerprints are all over this classic story of repentance and redemption. So, can a man be changed in one night? The gospel says yes.
"All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be a guest of a sinner.' But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount'"( Luke 19: 7 & 8).
"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Luke 15:7).
First Man (2018) PG-13
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Clarie Foy, Jason Clarke
Writers: Josh Singer (screenplay, James R. Hansen (book)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Neil Armstrong, as the first man on the moon, is a fascinating subject for a movie. Unfortunately, Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in this film does not come across as a very likable person, which makes it hard to bond with him. He is emotionally detached from his wife. He vents on her. He is stoic in response to his daughter's death.
Yet, apparently, Armstrong was very intelligent and his NASA superiors put him in charge of dangerous projects. When interviewed for the moon mission by a group of serious-looking men, however, he gives a lackluster response when they ask him why he thinks the mission is important. Expecting something profound, instead you get the following: "I think there are things we can see from there that we cannot see from here." That's it? That justifies spending billions of dollars and losing several human lives?
His wife, played by Clarie Foy (from The Crown TV series), is also not a particularly attractive character. She basically comes across as a tense, angry housewife who has to force her husband to tell the truth to his young sons that he might die during the mission. She corners him and says: "I'm not going to tell them. You tell them." Armstrong gathers his boys together and starts out calmly saying, "I fully expect us all to come back" but finally concedes, "but it's possible I may not."
Of course, it's hard not to be inspired by President Kennedy's speech: "We're not going to the moon because it is easy. We're doing it because it's hard." As a teenager in 1969, I can attest to the authenticity of the political climate presented in the film with the intense race against Russia to get it done quickly.
As an American, it makes you proud "our guys" did it. Yet, you wonder if the principal reason for the mission was simply to show the United States superior at the global space game. The film reveals that the mission was not without its critics. Although not in the film, pioneer Christian rocker Larry Norman sang some scathing lyrics at that time, which echoed what some were thinking about the mission's usefulness: "We need a solution, we need salvation, Let's send some people to the moon and gather information. They brought back a big bag of rocks. Only cost thirteen billion. Must be nice rocks." Meanwhile, most of the world watched in awe.
As is typical of films of this genre, there are several scenes of a helmeted Armstrong in an intensely vibrating spaceship taking off and hurtling through the cosmos. The most dramatic part of the historic moon landing when Armstrong says: "One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind." and the U.S. flag waving on the lunar surface are strangely missing.
Although the acting is well done, the screenplay is such that it's tough to empathize deeply with the characters. Not a stellar film in my opinion.
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:4 & 5).
Tolkien (2019) PG-13
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Lilly Collins, Colm Meaney
Writers: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Director: Dome Karukoski
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
This movie biography of JRR Tolkien when he was a young man is a well-acted, well-made, artsy kind of film. Writers will like it since it shows Tolkien’s development as a wordsmith and lover of words. Although it gets the facts mostly right—lost his dad at a young age and then his mother at 12; orphaned; looked after by a kindly, but firm priest; met Edith Bratt, his future wife, at the rooming house where he was placed; fought in WWI; loved fantasy; was homeschooled by his mother; and bonded deeply with other boys with artistic aspirations--it does invent other things to simplify the narrative.
For example, in reality, Tolkien contacted Edith Bratt the moment he turned 21 (after four years of not being in contact with her) and rushed over to where she lived to convince her to break off with her fiancé and marry him, which she did before Tolkien went to war. That would have been a great scene. Instead, it is reduced to Edith seeing Tolkien off to war and realizing suddenly that she truly loves him.
Also, according to historyvshollywood.com, the scene where a drunk Tolkien yells out in a language he created and a professor hears him is pure poppycock, to use a British expression. Although Tolkien did drink, as did C.S. Lewis, warm beer, and perhaps other alcoholic drinks, there is nothing to indicate he drank in excess at this moment in his life.
The biggest omission and disappointment of the film is that there is absolutely no reference (or so little I missed it) to Tolkien’s strong faith in God. In fact, if you did not know his life and you watched this movie, you would think the only influences on his classic works were: his mom, his reading, his friends, the war, his education, and his living environment (first a beautiful countryside and then a drabby London during the Industrial Revolution). Tolkien’s talks and writings, however, reveal otherwise. In fact, C.S. Lewis tells us in his wonderful autobiography, Surprised by Joy, that Tolkien was instrumental in his conversion to Christianity.
As a drama with romantic elements (both Nicholas Hoult and Lilly Collins are wonderful in their roles), the movie works fine. But, to purposely ignore such a fundamental part of Tolkien’s life, which was undoubtedly his Christian faith, to maybe appeal to a wider audience, does this respected author and his legacy a great injustice and is a flagrant misrepresentation of his character.
"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.” - The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
*Be aware that the dialogue might be hard to catch at times as Americans because of all the English accents. There are also some war scenes with multiple dead bodies.