The Theory of Everything is, above all, a marvelous love story. Based upon Jane Hawking’s account of her 30-year marriage to famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, director James Marsh has crafted an emotional, affectionate tribute to the man, love, and life itself. It does get stuck in the biopic genre gears here and there, but overall this is an impressive effort that features two of the best performances of the year.
Diagnosed with “motor neuron disease,” also known as ALS, a 21-year-old Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) was given two years to live at the age of twenty-one. His first question upon hearing his diagnosis: “will it effect my brain?” Hawking is, from a very young age, a scientific genius. Endlessly fascinated with time and the idea that a single equation can explain all of human life, Hawking would go on to do the best work of his life while gradually being rendered physically and verbally helpless by his disease. His love for Jane (Jones) began when they met as students at the University of Cambridge in the early 1960’s. Despite his diagnosis and awareness that taking care of Stephen would essentially be her life, Jane stuck by him as he did the most groundbreaking work of his career.
Shot with plenty of warmth and glow and accompanied by a glorious score by Johann Johannson, The Theory of Everything is a sight to behold. Marsh, screenwriter Anthony McCarten, and the lead actors keep the story grounded despite several opportunities for it to descend into soapy melodrama. That doesn’t stop the film from dragging in spots and tripping over familiar biopic tropes in its second act. It’s the third act, in which revelations, both scientific and personal, are made that the movie really emerges as a memorable, touching experience.
Not since Charlize Theron in Monster has an actor so completely morphed into their character. Eddie Redmayne, already a superb actor, transcends here as the embodiment of Stephen Hawking. As his condition deteriorates to the point that he is unable to speak or move, Redmayne is never less than completely convincing. Felicity Jones matches him the whole way, turning in an emotionally complex performance as Jane. Jones effortlessly conveys the boundless love Jane had for Stephen, even as he continued to shun outside help for his condition.
Stephen Hawking is now seventy-two. He has out-lived his initial diagnosis by forty-nine years and continues to be a giant in the field of science. It’s really kind of amazing that it’s taken this long for a film to be made about him. The Theory of Everything serves as a good introduction to Hawking’s work, but the focus is wisely on his and Jane’s love. It’s a timeless story; the kind movies were invented for.
Studio: Focus Features
Length: 123 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.
Theatrical Release: November 7, 2014 (Limited)
Directed by: James Marsh
Written by: Anthony McCarten. Based upon the book by Jane Hawking.
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Charlie Cox