The Theory Of Everything is neither seminal nor revolutionary. It glides along with its characters in a certain grace that’s easy on the eyes and even easier on the hearts. The movie is ostensibly about Stephen Hawking’s downward spiral into atrophic despair after he contracts a rare case of motor neuron disease, but is really more about the travails of his wife Jane, who has to battle human emotions while putting on a front as invincible as a superhero.
Indeed, the film is based on a book written by Jane, and focuses tirelessly on her relationship with the crippled genius. It was not an easy relationship, it must be said, but then how many involving such prodigies usually are?
The film begins in 1963 with Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) in the early stages of adulthood, working on his PhD in physics, trying very hard to discover the equation that holds the answer to everything in the universe. He doesn’t believe in God, because in the pursuit of scientific result God is but the enemy. This presents an interesting counterpoint to Jane (Felicity Jones), who is deeply involved in the church and, in the later stages of her marriage, seeks the help of the handsome choir conductor Jonathan (Charlie Cox) to teach the kids piano and appear all heroic. To Jonathan’s credit, he recoils when he realises he has feelings for the troubled wife.
Jane, it must be said, is the true hero of The Theory Of Everything. I sympathised more with her. Many of us are familiar with Hawking’s tragedy, and he deals with it as best he can. His personal story provides the skeleton. Jane’s provides the flesh. She is a crusader for true love, understanding its connotations more readily than Hawking, who thinks it is just another equation in the problem of life.
She knows immediately that she loves him, and she knows just as quickly what that means. When their inevitable separation arrives, she intones: “I have loved you. I tried my best”, and we agree, she did (this little plot point might seem like a spoiler, but let’s face it, this movie is a history lesson, and both Jane’s and Stephen’s biographies can be found on Wikipedia, a website open to the public).
I find Jane, according to the convictions of this movie, to be a rather remarkable individual. Consider that by the time she and Stephen have their first child, Stephen is already beginning to shrivel up. Then they have another. And then another, under dubious circumstances. That she can still look at Stephen as a sexual being speaks very highly of her commitment. But how long can such commitment last? Before long, she’s exchanging flirty glances with Jonathan, and we understand that it’s not out of lust or spite, but desperation.
Redmayne walks away with the gold, however. As I sat there and saw him writhing himself into wheelchair after wheelchair, struggling with movement then with speech, looking uncannily like the real Hawking caught in a time loop, I realised with a smile that I was looking at a masterful display. Indeed, the real Hawking wrote director James Marsh after he saw the film and admitted that a few times he thought he was observing himself on screen. My brother makes a good point: Redmayne looks like he’s in physical agony. That’s that. Job done.
Like The Imitation Game (2015), also out in cinemas around the country now, I would have liked to have seen a bit more genius. What makes Hawking tick? What governs his thoughts and mental processes? Does he look at an apple and see it as part of a grander universe of things, all connected in some way by Einstein’s general theory of relativity? What did his theories on black holes prove? Alas, I am asking for what never was and must learn to graciously accept what the movies give me. I do concede that Theory holds more attention than The Imitation Game, provides more room for sympathy, has less tolerance for contrivance, and blazes through its saccharine story with a lead performance that is among the bravest I have seen. I give it three stars, same as Imitation, but as we all know, stars mean nothing. Although Hawking would disagree.
Best Moment | Just watching Redmayne is Best enough.
Worst Moment | None.