Sunday, December 28, 2014

Can Movie Heroes Ever Be Flawed?

Last week I watched The Theory of Everything.  At first I enjoyed it.  I felt the movie was a bittersweet love story that humanized someone I merely saw as a scientific icon.  I had known very little about Stephen Hawking's personal life before I saw the movie.  I had known he was married, but not to whom, or how many times.  Shortly before I saw the movie I read that Jane Hawking eventually divorced him due to burnout, but that was the extent of what I knew.

I was discussing the movie with my family and the accuracy of the story came up. My mother mentioned that Hawking would eventually marry his nurse Elaine Mason.  This was completely glossed over in the movie.  It is never mentioned in the brief epilogue at the end of the film, which gives a rosy, happily-ever-after picture of Hawking's and Jane's post-divorce life.  In real life, Hawking left Jane for Mason.  This is not stated outright in the film.  Their parting scene does involve his telling Jane that he and Mason were going on a trip for a speaking engagement together, but it is quite circumspect as to whether or not Mason is going as more than just his nurse.  The movie shows the divorce as being as much about Jane's relationship with her choir director than it is about her stress level or about his feelings for Mason.  Viewers don't ever find out how he was estranged from his family during the period of his second marriage.  We also don't find out the second marriage ended in divorce as well.  The movie fails to mention Hawking's and Jane's religious differences, choosing to even imply that Hawking had changed his mind about his atheisim.

That made me think of yet another movie about a disabled genius, A Beautiful Mind.  That film depicts John Nash as a man who conquered schizophrenia partially through the love and devotion of his wife, Alicia.  Nash was no devoted husband.  He had affairs with both men and women, one of which produced an illegitimate child whose mother he abandoned.  Nash and Alicia were divorced for many years and then reconciled.

Why do movies want to treat situations like these so delicately?  Is it the we revere scientists to the point where we feel that they are above petty human weaknesses?  Scientists mate for life, right?  Is it because we are afraid to exploit the disabled?  Are we never allowed to not see the disabled as magical beings who can do no wrong?  Is it a combination of that?  Is it just that Hollywood is afraid to ever show a film's protagonist as flawed?  Are they afraid the masses will like the movie less if the hero is shown to have extramarital affairs or not believe in God, or be involved in corrupt business dealings?

One day I would like to see a major Hollywood studio make a biographical film where all of the hero's flaws are put on display.  I'm wondering what the audience reaction will be. 
 

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