The Theory of Everything review
A complex love story wrapped in a biopic
Many critics have pegged The Theory of Everything as this year’s “Oscar bait” film akin to other artistic, period biopics like The King’s Speech and A Beautiful Mind, and they aren’t necessarily wrong. That being said and all things considered, what isn’t to like about elaborate, detailed sets, transcendent performances, and inspirational storytelling? Based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,the memoir of Jane Wilde Hawking, Ph.D., filmmaker James Marsh’s (Man on Wire, “Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980”) latest picture covers the memoirist’s relationship and marriage to theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Marsh’s background involves documentaries and while The Theory of Everything doesn’t have a documentary vibe, the director does terrific work behind the camera to make his newest film feel as real as possible by looking past the legendary icon of Stephen Hawking to present the man’s tribulations and their subsequent effect on his loved ones. Eddie Redmayne’s (Les Miserables, My Week with Marilyn) stellar, career-catapulting lead performance as Hawking also helps lead Marsh’s film into the heat of awards conversation.
The Theory of Everything, like A Beautiful Mind and GoodFellas, follows two opposite-gender leads—a successful husband (Redmayne) and a devoted wife played by Felicity Jones (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Invisible Woman). Unlike both of those films, we know that the marriage ultimately collapses by narrative’s end so we have the building element of divorce growing in the background if one is familiar with the story of their marriage. Despite the end of the marriage and Hawking’s deteriorating condition, Marsh’s film isn’t a total bummer due to Redmayne’s Stephen—always looking to expand his knowledge and improve human understanding. In fact, even the break-up scene carries an air of love and understanding between the divorcees. Although The Theory of Everything could take the sad, dramatic, emotional route at each opportunity, the film simply begs the viewer to have hope.
Despite the source material coming from Jane Hawking, Stephen Hawking is the film’s main character and it’s uncanny just how much Redmayne resembles Hawking at the same age. The story begins in 1960s Cambridge where Jane and Stephen first meet and Stephen first receives his diagnosis of motor neuron disease. From here, it’s rather conventional (and predictable if you know the story) storytelling. There are many inspirational stories (often true) involving a man who defied all odds because of the love of a good woman to the point where it has become a cliché. Luckily, the lead practically becomes Hawking on film and gives your movie ticket its value. Marsh shot his film out of sequence, so Redmayne had to gauge Hawking’s given condition for the scene every day—a far more arduous task than shooting sequentially and easing into the role. An admirer of the movie, the famous physicist himself even loaned his trademark voice for its authenticity.
Felicity Jones, despite getting overshadowed by Redmayne’s praise, may find herself in awards conversation in 2015, as well, in the leading actress category. As the film builds to a close, Jones’s Jane declares, “I have loved you. I did my best.” This sums up their relationship (and her performance) rather well based on what we’re given on screen. When her husband is first diagnosed with his condition, Stephen tells her the doctors have given him two years. Obviously, this diagnosis was nowhere near accurate as the physicist still lives and works today. The Theory of Everything hints that Stephen Hawking divorced his wife in order to let her be with family friend Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox- “Boardwalk Empire,” Stardust). The couple’s break-up serves as the film’s climax and emotional core—even if one of the voices is synthetic.
Despite conventional storytelling in a cliché biopic format, The Theory of Everything deserves some of the awards chatter it has garnered. Although the film never quite touches on the icon's work and its effects in the world of physics, it manages to find a sense of humor at times. Two terrific lead performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones make just another inspirational true story into a substantial film-going experience. With powerhouse acting, a beautifully tranquil score from Jóhann Jóhannsson (Prisoners, I am Here) and Benoît Delhomme’s (A Most Wanted Man, Lawless) fluid montage editing, The Theory of Everything is sure to wind up as a Best Picture contender at the 2015 Oscars.