By Octavio Karbank
Jovial, heart wrenching and downright awe-inspiring, The Theory of Everything tells the story about two geeks who fall in love and the fantastic journey they share together. Based on Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife’s memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the movie has source material to base itself on. It’s a fact worth mentioning, because even though the movie’s focus is on Hawking, a lot of room is left to explore the nature of his relationship with his first wife, Jane.
How do you capture a man’s essence in two hours? The question is especially prevalent when that man is Stephen Hawking, one of history’s greatest minds. Yet since the movie takes the story from its source material, this is also Jane’s rodeo as we see and feel all the struggles she too endures. Those same trials, especially the one Mr. Hawking faces, come to the screen poignantly when played with the grace of Eddie Redmayne. By no means a new face, but perhaps lesser known than some, Redmayne delivers a startling performance that has the potential to make him a certified A-lister. In reading about The Theory of Everything I discovered the startling lengths Redmayne went to in order to fully encapsulate the personage of Stephen Hawking.
From spending four months training his body with a dancer and losing fifteen pounds, to maintaining a hunched position between takes so that his spine’s alignment literally altered, Redmayne did everything in his power to turn himself into Stephen Hawking. His transformation and dedication to the role is nothing short of astonishing and his, along with co-star Felicity Jones’s, commitment to the people they’re playing, turn the movie into a beacon of hope. While Redmayne shines, Jones also proves her acting chops. Embracing the role of Jane Hawking, Jones takes every line and churns out such dynamic power in return that at times the audience feels like this is her story, and on some level it is, and not Hawking’s.
Director James Marsh, known primarily for the documentary Man on a Wire, allows for earnest and respectable storytelling. He doesn’t shirk from Stephen’s terrifying experience of watching his body slowly betray him, but he also doesn’t turn Hawking into a misanthropic martyr. While there were one or two subjects that Jane Hawking kindly asked the movie not address, namely the issue of sex, as they had three children together, Marsh weaves ways around that dilemma, distracting the audience so they don’t think they’re missing out on anything.
Despite the pitch-perfect acting and heartfelt drama, The Theory of Everything still feels a little over-ambitious. There are moments where some of the drama appears contrived and you can tell the movie is trying too hard. You just know they want an Academy Award. It’s that type of movie, or at least Mr. Marsh and company would like it to be so. It’s too bad if you’re interested more in Hawking’s mathematics than his family drama. The movie glances over his theories, but doesn’t go into any specific detail. Part of Hawking’s allure is the complexity and profound nature of his work. However, the movie presupposes you already know everything about his studies and, somewhat unfortunately, hastily rushes through those bits. You also never learn about Hawking before he met Jane. This might be a petty annoyance, but I would have liked to see moments of Hawking’s life pre-Jane. Oh well.
No matter its faults, The Theory of Everything is still a beautifully told and exceptionally moving film. Biopics are usually a hit or miss and it takes both superb creativity and mastery of the craft in order to honor someone’s life story, especially when the person is still alive. James Marsh, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne bring their A-game, and for the most part, it’s more than enough. The Theory of Everything instills you with a sense of hope, proving that no matter how dark things get, there will always be light too. As for me, that’s the kind of message I’m okay with.
Octavio Karbank is a writer and bona fide Whovian. Living in Massachusetts, you can find him on Twitter @TymeHunter and his blog www.cozmicventures.com