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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? The Theory of Everything

WATWtheoryeverything

Man does science-ing, discovers secrets of the universe. Woman does selfless wife-ing. As usual.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: -10

-10
Is there a woman who is mostly pretty awesome and perfect who is present to support a man improving himself? [why this matters]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: 0

[no significant representation of women in authority]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: 0

[no issues]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -5

-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional and/or sexual relationship with a man or men? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: 0

Is there anything either positive or negative in the film’s representation of women not already accounted for here? (points will vary)

No.

TOTAL SCORE: -15

IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: Man does science-ing, discovers secrets of the universe. Woman does selfless wife-ing. As usual.


Click here for the ranking of 2014’s Oscar-nominated films for female representation.

Click here for the ongoing ranking of 2015’s films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of The Theory of Everything! It is simply an examination of how well or how poorly it represents women. (A movie that represents women well can still be a terrible film; a movie that represents women poorly can still be a great film.) My review of The Theory of Everything is coming soon.

See the full rating criteria. (Criteria that do not apply to this film have been deleted in this rating for maximum readability.)


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  • Maria Niku

    I was already debating with myself whether to go see the film, and this rating makes me lean (still) more heavily on the ‘no’ side. I’m not a big fan of biopics of famous people who are still alive in general, but there’s also this. Yes, it’s based on his then wife’s memoirs, and yes, she did dedicate herself to supporting him. But what’s in the all too common ‘self-sacrificing woman’ angle for me?

  • I still gave it a green light. Full review soon.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    I gotta disagree with you on this one.

    Jane Hawking is central to the story here. She is “a female character with significant screen time who grows, changes, and/or learns something over the course of the story”, not a “woman who is mostly pretty awesome and perfect who is present to support a man improving himself”.

    *spoilers*

    Although she does the selfless wife-ing while he does the science-ing, the film shows that both sides of the family criticize Stephen for letting Jane take all the load without professional help. It is also implied that this was one of the reasons of their divorce later.

    She has other interests besides Stephen — she sings in the church choir, and falls in love with Jonathan. She becomes a PhD, for crying out loud.

    Stephen, on the other hand, isn’t “improving himself” as much as trying to not let himself go. He was a talented physicist from the start; Jane has nothing to do with that.

    The overall tone was that Jane was courageous and idealist — and Stephen took advantage of that, only recognizing her contribution in the end of the film.

    In short, it’s Stephen who mistreats his wife; not the film that misrepresents women.

  • falls in love with Jonathan

    And she selflessly walks away from him after they confess their feelings (which appear to have come out of nowhere, because we haven’t seen any of their relationship). It’s Stephen who eventually walks away from the marriage.

    She becomes a PhD, for crying out loud

    Again, this happens offscreen.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    She *decided* to push him away because she is a religious type. The subtext is that she saw Stephen’s pneumonia as a punishment for her “misbehavior”. Nobody asked her that. Earlier in the film, Stephen and Jonathan seem to have come to an unspoken agreement about that.

    It’s not strange that we don’t see her cheating, its standard biopic hagiography.

    Anyway I stand by my point. She learned to not define herself as Stephen’s wife only. Her decisions are crucial to the plot (mostly: to marry him, to keep him alive). It’s pretty clear that Stephen wouldn’t have made it without her. If he gets all the glory it’s because he’s a jerk.

    By my own experience, Jane’s selflessness isn’t entirely voluntary. Living with a person with disability is generally exhausting after the initial hopes wane. You get sucked into all kinds of needs and responsibilities — it’s pretty much like being a single parent of an adult plus how many children you happen to have (2, in my case). Especially when the in-laws see the marriage as a relief from their burden — Stephen’s parents would never bought that house with stairs if he stayed with them, but hey, that’s now Jane’s problem.

  • its standard biopic hagiography.

    And that is the central problem with this, when it comes to its representation of Jane.

    By my own experience, Jane’s selflessness isn’t entirely voluntary. Living with a person with disability is generally exhausting after the initial hopes wane.

    I have absolutely no doubt that this is true. And I have absolutely no doubt that there is a completely different movie to be told about this problem where the caregiver is the central character. The issue here is that, by *Jane’s* experience as we see it in this film, there’s not much evidence of that.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    I just saw the film again, and I think I can see why it bothered you. I had pointed out that Jane’s decisions are important to the story, but all her decisions are about Stephen. And of course there’s that “unhappy but conformed by love/duty/pity” tone (*spoiler* which starts with her studying for the PhD — yes, it’s on screen — and hits its lowest point at the dialogue where she practically complains that he lived more than expected, leaving us wondering why she saved his life at all).

    On the other hand, good biographies contain mostly private matters that are important to the public story (some trivia is inescapable, of course). So, is there anything about Jane that isn’t about Stephen that fits that bill? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m under the impression that the film is as much about Jane as it could possibly be, given that there’s no shortage of tension or conflict in Stephen’s life.

    And I have absolutely no doubt that there is a completely different
    movie to be told about this problem where the caregiver is the central
    character.

    That would never work here, because Stephen is not only famous, he’s a cultural icon. That would have to be a private story. Maybe I’ll write it someday, when I’m done ghostwriting.

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