Reel Caregiving: Glimpses of Caregiving – Theory of Everything

Movie Review Courtesy: Rebecca Thomas

The Theory of Everything is a 2014 biographical film about the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. However, the relationship that Stephen shared with his wife, Jane forms the crux of the story. After he was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 21, Jane takes on the role of being a primary caregiver for him. We see her journey as a caregiver beginning with determination to make the most of the situation till cracks appear in their marriage with the burden of being a caregiver affecting her.

Jane is a bright student on the verge of pursuing her Ph.D. when she receives the news that the man she is in love with has only two years left to live. She is adamant to be with him till the end even if it is for two years despite being discouraged by Stephen himself as well as his father. He warns her that ‘this won’t be a fight Jane but a very heavy defeat’ yet she soldiers on.

She makes it a point to encourage him as he makes huge leaps professionally and supports him physically as his condition continues to deteriorate and his movement becomes further restricted. The couple leads a blissful life in the beginning with their newborn child but as time goes by, Jane starts struggling as her own ambition comes to a standstill. She has to juggle between being a caregiver to her husband as well as a mother to her children, having no time whatsoever to pursue her own professional ambitions.

Jane reaches a stage where she requires support to take care of her husband as she reaches a point of exhaustion. However, Stephen’s constant denials make her feel helpless.

Her mother persuades her to join the church choir as a means for some personal time engaged in a hobby. This shows how caregivers must ensure that they look after their own well-being and it helps to pursue an activity they enjoy. There, she meets Jonathan and strikes a chord with him.

Stephen finally gives in acknowledging Jane’s point of view and agrees to let Jonathan help them. Jane undergoes an inner conflict as the attraction between her and Jonathan grows. A fatal episode in Bordeaux after which Stephen loses his voice completely results in Jane making her final decision and she cuts off all ties with Jonathan. Jane becomes Stephen’s strength and urges him to communicate using a color-coded spelling board.

As their marriage progresses, the task of being a primary caregiver, taking care of her children, and doing the household chores starts to rattle Jane. With the whole burden resting on her shoulders, she gets frustrated at not being able to pursue her own further studies. As the years go on, she continues to take care of him but more out of a sense of duty than love. The cracks had become too big to ignore in their marriage and the distance, far too great. Despite Jane’s best efforts, the caregiving takes a toll on their relationship and they both decide to end their marriage, knowing that they would still continue to care for each other.

In our next segment on Reel Caregiving, we will explore caregiving in another movie. Watch this space.

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