The Theory of Everything (2014 Working Title Films)
The relationship between famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior. Directed by James Marsh. Story by Jane Wilde Hawking. Screenplay by Anthony McCarten. Executive Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten.
Sometimes, a film just begs for Oscar’s attention. The Theory of Everything didn’t have to beg that much. It is a perfect confluence of acting, direction, design and editing to tell a story: the love between one of the greatest minds of the 20th century and the woman who would become his wife. But it also tells the story of the darker side of their relationship: the challenges, the frustration and the temptation.
Opening in 1963, we meet Stephen Hawking just as we might expect to see him: a young, goofy, sometimes awkward graduate student at Cambridge University. Slightly flaky but completely likable, Stephen meets Jane Wilde, a literature student, and is immediately smitten. Around the same time, the clumsy young Stephen visits a doctor and learns the news of his illness—motor neuron disease—and the dire prognosis.
Visually and aurally, The Theory of Everything is beautiful, perfectly capturing the look and essence of specific moments in time over a 25-year period. Director James Marsh separates each vignette with “home movie” reels; perhaps not the most unique device, but it is effective and enjoyable. It kept the story focused on Stephen and Jane’s relationship and struggles without missing the high points of their lives. It also showed Hawking’s disease progression in stark, sad terms.
Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking is positively frightening. He captures Hawking’s youthful vibrance as well as his physical descent into Lou Gehrig’s Disease with depth and emotion but never stoops to hamming it up. His performance elicits empathy for Hawking, who loses the ability to move or speak on his own, but never once does it become a sappy melodrama.
At its heart, The Theory of Everything is a love story between Stephen and Jane. But it also is a story of perseverance in the face of incredible odds. Hawking had to overcome a debilitating, crippling disease that robbed him of everything except his mind. It is also Jane’s story, literally (she wrote the book, after all). It’s easy to forget how much Jane shared in Stephen Hawking’s journey; and how much she sacrificed.
As Jane, Felicity Jones finds her toughness, vulnerability and her ever-growing exasperation. She avoids the stand-by-your-man cliches to give Jane a voice that is both powerful and compassionate. We see Jane’s struggle to find balance when she begins living her own life, independent of being Stephen’s caretaker, and befriends her church choir instructor, Jon (Charlie Cox).
It’s an emotional story, but told with reserve and levity (the Penthouse magazine scene with Hawking’s assistant, Elaine, comes to mind). Marsh didn’t direct an in-your-face picture. He’s not Oliver Stone. The Theory of Everything tells a complete story without getting mired in the details of so either astrophysics or Hawking’s disease. Yes, it is about Hawking’s struggles, but it is also about Jane’s struggles. It is a love story that depicts the complexities of relationships and that some relationships, like stars in the sky, do not last forever. They exist in their own space and time and there is something beautiful in that.
RATING: **** stars (out of five)