Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Theory of Everything Review

(dir. James Marsh)

Universal/Focus Features

"One never knows from where the next great leap forward is going to come, or from whom."

    Stephen Hawking is unquestionably one of the greatest minds of our time, responsible for many of our theories on the universe and our existence as human beings. The Theory of Everything, based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, focuses its lens to explore Hawking’s private life and how all of his genius would have been for naught without the help of his wife, Jane Wilde. Unexpectedly, The Theory of Everything is less concerned with Hawking’s theories, influence, and rise to prominence than it is telling a love story fraught with tragedy and defined by a beauty that is anything but simple. While Marsh’s film has been publicized as the story of Stephen Hawking, it is equally (or perhaps more so), the story of Jane Wilde and how her selflessness helped change the scope of modern physics and cosmology.

     Eddie Redmayne’s transformation into Stephen Hawking is brilliant and a further reminder that this year’s Best Actor race may be even more stacked than the last. As he plays Hawking through several stages of his life, and the worsening of his Lou Gehrig’s disease, Redmayne maintains Hawking’s sense of curiosity and humor. But what’s truly remarkable is how successfully Redmayne alters his speech patterns and body language. Even once Hawking loses his ability to speak, Redmayne still successfully communicates all of Hawking’s charm, brilliance, and egotism.  It’s an extremely focused and imaginably taxing performance. While it’s impossible for Felicity Jones to compete with Redmayne’s more attention grabbing role, she gives an emotionally powerful performance that displays Jane’s strength in the sacrifices she chose to make on both a professional and personal level. Despite her youthful looks, Jones fully carries the strength and wisdom of an older actress while never losing the bright-eyed energy of youth that makes Jane such a compelling figure. The theory of everything is nothing without the strength of a woman.  

     Marsh’s direction is elevated from simply being a compelling biopic by gorgeous cinematography by BenoĆ®t Delhomme. I challenge you to find a more beautifully lit sequence in a film this year than the outdoor formal that takes place early in the film. Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is concise, moving over large chunks of the Hawkings' lives, but zeroing in on the important emotional beats in their story. The film is also surprisingly and impressively funny. While I wouldn’t have minded a slightly longer movie, The Theory of Everything never feels rushed. While some of the film’s detractors have commented on that fact the film doesn’t spend enough time of what makes Stephen Hawking important and that his theories are inadequately summarized, I think they have missed Marsh and McCarten’s intent. The Theory of Everything isn’t concerned with the theory of the universe and string theory, but rather the connection between people. As tawdry as it may sound to some, I think the film makes it clear (it even hammers it home in the film’s final moments) that love is everything.

     I find it quite interesting that three of this fall’s best films, Birdman, Interstellar, and The Theory of Everything are inevitably about understanding what love is, what it costs, and ultimately what it creates. All three films deal with theoretical notions, and while Nolan and Marsh’s films owe a great deal to Hawking’s scientific work, neither film is actually about that work when all is said and done. Marsh’s film is clearly the least risky of the three and perhaps offers the least to grapple with after the credits roll, but in an awards season crowded with biopics, The Theory of Everything is a thoroughly satisfying and personal exploration into the man who sought to unravel the secrets of the universe and the woman who reminded him of his humanity.

Grade: A

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