Well made, well acted, well shot, The Theory of Everything is everything an audience could want from a bio-pic. The story of Stephen Hawking’s marriage to his first wife, The Theory of Everything is a wonderful film. Strengthened by two Oscar nominated performances by Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane, his first wife, the movie transports the audience into these character’s lives and worlds. James Marsh has created a lovely film and the beauty of the movie stands somewhat in contrast to the sadness of the subject mater.
Most people going into The Theory of Everything know the basics of Stephen Hawking’s story. Affected by a particularly rare strain of ALS, Hawking found himself confined – all but motionless – to a wheel chair when he was a very young man. That his plight didn’t stop him from becoming – arguably – the most famous scientist of the 20 and early 21st centuries is an amazing feat. Amazing, too, is the fact that his personal life – his romance with and marriage to Jane – survived much of his physical deterioration. There is a message in The Theory of Everything about love triumphing over these kinds of incredible odds, and it’s a good message. There’s also a message that people in love can only bear so much before love starts to strain.
When their relationship begins to break down, it is heart wrenching. Redmayne and Jones created such a believable union that its dissolution is quite affecting. There is a reason they were both nominated for Academy Awards. It is obvious the two understand and love each other and it is precisely because of their understanding that they know when their marriage is over. No shouting, no histrionics. Just an end. I didn’t need more of their disagreements to comprehend they’d come to the end of the line and the film wisely doesn’t include them.
What I would have liked to have seen more of is the conflict that Hawking and Jane had over religion. In reading about their real story, The Cinnamon Girl discovered that this disagreement between them led to argument after argument and, while the movie doesn’t live and die with Hawking’s scientific theories – a good choice as I (and, I assume, much of the audience) would have been lost by them – it would have been interesting to watch these two spar over this most important distinction. Jane was a devout believer in God. Hawking was not. This is an interesting area to explore. Marsh’s movie doesn’t go that way, and that’s fine, but I, for one, would have enjoyed the conversation.
Felicity Jones is wonderful as Jane Hawking. She’s sympathetic. She’s devoted to her husband and her children (for most of the movie… more on that later) and Jones manages to convey both of these important aspects of Jane while also creating her as a character distinct from these roles. As she begins to fall for Johnathan Jones (played sheepishly by Charlie Cox who’s going to be very familiar to audiences when he stars as Daredevil in April’s Netflix series) – a man who comes into the Hawkings’ lives to assist them – Jones lets the audience feel her attraction and her pain. Her chemistry with Redmayne is terrific but Jane exists as equal to him and the fact that she’s able to create such a memorable character in opposition to Redmayne’s more showy role says a lot about her performance.
Eddie Redmayne is the only nominated actor that might give Michael Keaton a run for his money for the Best Actor prize. Engaging out of the wheelchair and in it, Redmayne creates a complete character and one who become even more compelling when he loses the ability to speak and to move. I believe the real Stephen Hawking must have an incredible sense of humor based on Redmayne’s portrayal. There is a glimmer in his eye and always a wry smile on his face. When the movie gives in to an inevitable flashback sequence and we see Redmayne as the young and healthy Hawking, we can really see what Redmayne has accomplished.
It is difficult for the movie to escape on fact, though: the story itself struck me as a most depressing one. Though Hawking overcomes his physical aliments intellectually, and though the title cards at the end of the movie indicate something of a happy life for both he and Jane after the final reel unspools, the fact remains that this is a sad story and one made all the more sad by how good the movie is. In the hands of lesser talents – on both sides of the camera – I would have cared a little less about the characters and the outcome. As it stands, I cared a lot. And I felt a lot, too.
If there is a flaw in the movie it’s this: what happened to the kids? When they are inconvenient for the action of the movie, the film seems to cavalierly forget about them. They disappear for large tracts of the end of the movie. That’s a pretty big miss for a film like this.
However, James Marsh can be forgiven here because the totality of the movie is just so overwhelmingly beautiful. The Theory of Everything is sometimes breathtaking in its composition, often heartbreaking in its story and truly a remarkable film.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING receives FOUR AND A HALF BLACK HOLES out of a possible FIVE.