Last night I was able to finally sit down and watch The Theory of Everything. Stephen Hawking has always captivated me, not only because of my deep love and profound respect of physics, but also when it comes to how people with disabilities are represented in the mainstream media, Hawking has been able to, somehow, get it right.
Nobody thinks of Hawking as disabled. The voice, the chair, the brain, it is all just one inspirational package: Him. To have a inspirational human interest story about Hawking “overcoming” hurdles would just be absurd. We see him as successful, and the disability is just an interesting detail which may permit us to see glimpses of the human being behind a massive brain.
I was eager to see The Theory of Everything because I wanted to see how this balance would be struck in mainstream film. I hate My Left Foot and I can’t help but roll my eyes at Children of a Lesser God or The Miracle Worker. For those of us with disabilities, we spend so much of our lives trying to make everyone else get over the fact we are disabled that when it’s all Hollywood can focus on, be a slap in the face.
This film was the first film i’ve ever seen that handled disability 100% right. You can’t write a story about Hawking and focus on disability… you’ll miss the entire universe! And because Hawking was portrayed in a full complex manner, the disability related tear jerker moments (such as as when Hawking is crawling up the stairs to see his baby… had me reduced to heaving sobs on my couch) were earned NOT laden with saccharine sap of Tiny Tim simplicity.
Eddie Redmayne’s transformation is flawless but oscar winning portrayals of disability have been seen for ages (and are quickly becoming out of date). What hasn’t been seen is how disability is a detail every corner of a man’s complex and full life.
Let’s hope that this is a new trend of disability being handled RIGHT in film. It’s a brave new world out there. Every Day.