I do not usually do movie reviews, but not since “Brian’s Song,” has a movie/biopic moved me such as this film did. I saw the movie, “The Theory Of Everything” starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, cosmologist, and also a patient dealing with ALS, also known as Lou Gerhrig’s Disease.
There is no spoiler alert with this post, because everyone knows that Hawking has defied the ALS survival rate by decades. Originally given only two years to live in his college days, Hawking is now well into his seventies. I am very well aware of Hawking’s credentials, but it is his life, living with ALS, that gripped me most while watching the film.
Over the summer, a craze went over the internet, called the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” meant to raise awareness as well as money to help find a cure for this awful motor neuron disease, where basically every muscle shuts down, except for one. The brain remains functional and fully aware of what is happening to the body it is inside but no longer able to act or communicate. I did not need the challenge to make me aware of ALS.
For the second time in as many years, I was dealing with someone close to me, fighting ALS. And both would die from it, just a few years from their diagnosis.
My brother-in-law Mike, pictured here with my daughters, was just diagnosed a few months earlier. While the progression of the disease is cruel no matter how it occurs, it more often occurs in physical evidence like it did with Hawking, then progressing to the throat and mouth muscles. It is at this point, when dealing with ALS is more critical, because once you are no longer able to swallow, the ability to receive nourishment is critical. In my brother-in-law’s case, his ALS first became recognized by a simple slur in his speech. Thinking perhaps it was from enjoying a favorite vice of his, Jack Daniels, it was not soon before we all realized, it was not.
Mike’s deterioration would accelerate over the next couple of years, much in the way the film depicted Hawking’s struggles. It became difficult for Mike to grasp, walk, hold his head up, communicate, swallow, and the list goes on. But throughout his battle, he did his best to continue on, working, taking care of his family, and riding his Harley. But the disease continued to take everything away from Mike as he lost his physical abilities. Finally, two years ago, ironically the day following a fundraiser in his honor, my brother-in-law lost his life.
The only other time that I had even heard of ALS before Mike and my co-worker (who passed the year before my brother-in-law) was decades ago, watching a black and white movie, called “Pride Of The Yankees” starting Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig.
The most touching part of the movie, after the disease, which would eventually be named after him, came when Gehrig announced his retirement, calling himself, the “luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” in the following speech (quoted from Wikipedia):
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.
“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”
In the movie, “The Theory of Everything,” Hawking pretty much carried the same attitude as Gerhig, and my brother-in-law, he was not going to let anything stand in his way of proving “Time.”
Near the conclusion of the movie, Redmayne quotes as Hawking, during a discussion about “giving up” takes place, says, “as long as there is life, there is hope.”
There were many of us in the theatre who probably took that ice bucket challenge, and many may have had no idea just how cruel the disease was except for a few of us. But after watching this movie, there is no doubt that humanity now understands this rare, cruel, and fatal disease. Hawking has defied the odds somehow, and is a true inspiration.
I anticipate many Oscars for this movie.