“The Theory of Everything” is the story of genius, of vision, and the determination and courage of “Stephen Hawking” (Eddie Redmayne), along with the woman who stood by him through most all of it “Jane Hawking” (Felicity Jones)and on whose memoir, “Travelling to Infinity ~ My Life with Stephen” this film is based.
First of all this is a love story, if a rather special one as it’s a beautiful, poignant and quite incredible story of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s life, including all the trials and tribulations that they endure during their time together. While it maybe not be the best movie of the year, I think it is destined to be one of the most remembered. It’s a sweet, touching portrait of the complicated life of both it’s main characters, along with all their imperfections. It is something to be seen by all as it sells itself and, if not altogether realistic, it’s smart considering its main character, anyway, is considered one of the greatest minds of all time.
I will admit that while I’m no genius, hate math with a passion and still secretly count on my fingers at times for quick addition, I completely understand Stephen Hawking theologies as they are could be taken for some of my own ideas/thoughts/beliefs regarding the universe. Not that what I believe in has anything to do with this movie, but I honestly didn’t know much about Stephen’s life before he was incapacitated at all.. In my lifetime, I’ve only ever known about a man who though one of the most brilliant minds to ever exist, couldn’t speak except through a machine due to the fact he had Lou Gehrigs disease.
But this story is Jane’s, or rather her version of it, and so it begins at where else..the beginning..with them meeting at a party at Cambridge. The film’s early scenes show charming 1950’s England, which makes the way the pair are immediately attracted to each other all the more touching. They both come from St. Albans, but with major other differences. She’s in lit, focused on Spanish medieval poetry and a devout member of the Church of England. He’s an atheist and a burgeoning cosmologist, which he explains to her as someone who works out a “theory of everything.” In another wonderful little early period touch, Stephen picks her up in an adorable little multi-colored car in which the two go to a dance and fall in love.
Following we see the quite lazy albeit super-smart Stephen, who was one of those who could goof off with best friend “Brian” (Harry Lloyd), study about an hour a day while at Oxford, where he was a cox on the rowing team, and hardly needs to do more at Cambridge, while still being able to be held high in the estimation of the leading Cambridge physicist mentor “Dennis Sciama” (David Thewlis). This is the beginning though of him starting to stumble and drop things. Then he falls, hard, on his face, is tested, and is diagnosed with motor neuron disease (Lou Gehrig’s disease, now, but not then, known as ALS), and given two years to live. Thinking he had only this predicted time frame to live, Stephen set out to prove mathematically the black hole theory of his thesis. As he went on with his bold thinking and was able to more than defy that life sentence prediction to an extraordinary extent as he could’ve just sat back and let the predictable happen, but he didn’t and his clearly difficult but courageous story, is what is told here.
This is also where Redmayne’s physical performance really kicks in mimicking as he does the strange walk, the curled hands and the slump, the struggle up and down stairs, the first fall into a “provisional” wheelchair, the progressively declining ability to speak. In an almost iconic sequence, Stephen walks on his own with two canes to defend his Ph.D. thesis, and stands up for his triumphant acceptance as one of his last times being able to do so. Many of his ideas here are simplified for us as again, most probably wouldn’t be able to decipher his math equations. Mind you they are not dumbing it down so to speak, but it helps as we even see years later, even though Jane doesn’t switch over to science, we find her explaining his concepts in detail that again, we all can understand.
A huge turning point comes on Stephen’s trip to CERN, in Switzerland, in 1985, when he falls ill with pneumonia and he can only be kept alive and allowed to return home by having a tracheotomy, which Jane fights for. As heart-wrenching as it is to watch as all I could think of was that Stephen himself had no say in whether he wanted this procedure done or not. And Eddie Redmayne’s truly remarkable imitation of Hawking’s increasingly hard-to-follow speech ends here, because Stephen can no longer speak at all. At first, he’s given a board of coded letters to communicate with by blinking an eye and stubbornly refuses to do so. As we all know, the computer-driven speech system Hawking’s associated with soon arrives and in a lighter moment they all show shock that the machine speaks with an American accent, but no matter as it still makes him easier to understand than he had been for many years. It’s almost inevitable here that Stephen and what he goes on to do begins to somewhat take the place of the love story.
The film here turns to more about how Stephen’s disease, his growing fame, and raising their three children made life complicated for his wife, till she became strongly attracted to a male friend, “Jonathan Jones” (Charlie Cox), a recent widower and her choir director, who helps care for Stephen and whose constant presence makes Stephen’s parents, family & friends wrongly suspect he fathered the Hawkings’ third child, Timothy. Then we watch as an especially strong and enthusiastic female caretaker, “Elaine Mason” (Maxine Peake) takes over his care, winning Stephen’s affections, as she is the one whom he leaves Jane for, and in 1995, Jane and Stephen are finally divorced though still it seems on friendly working terms at least.
Having lived almost 48 years longer then he was expected to by doctors and seemly to have lived it to the fullest that we find perhaps the man himself is and was more of a prick and a narcissist than he appears in this film though from past footage it does always seem as though he has kept a sense of humour.
With a strong supporting cast that helps move the film along, it is Eddie Redmayne’s fantastic winning performance here is truly one awards are made to be given to for. Felicity Jones is also quite deserving here as daunting as Redmayne’s role is as Hawking, hers is almost equally tough portraying the hardships that a spouse also has to go through both mentally & physically, in signing on for the life with a severely disabled person. The only thing I would maybe have liked to have seen touched on more is his children. We never really learn how impossibly hard it must have been to not only grow up with one disabled parent, but also to be in the shadow of the genius mind of Stephen Hawking. Was anything expected of them etc.. I’d be curious to know.
(see grading scale)