The Theory of Everything
by Ken Carrell
TL;DR – The genius, romance, career, and disease of cosmologist Stephen Hawking are all offered in this film but his genius and career are downplayed in favor of the romance between him and his first wife Jane and his disease. Eddie Redmayne gives an Oscar-worthy performance and is only strengthened by the brilliance of his co-star Felicity Jones. To top it off, the cinematography paints scenes with amazing visual imagery and all parts come together to create a film well worth watching.
Regular (like we can adequately tack that word on anything here) movies typically focus on a fictional character or group of characters in a snippet of time. And this makes a lot of sense because why cover the life story of someone who never existed? Biopics make a lot more sense if we want to see a whole life story. Naturally, political implications stem from covering a person’s life and there are innate, unavoidable problems that arise from it. Do you cover their entire life story and create a lot of jumps that contribute to an unnatural stop-and-go feel? Do you cover only one part of their life story, the thing that makes their story worth telling, and slice out everything that got them to that point? These problems are inherent and not even a well-composed film like The Theory of Everything is safe from them.
Physicists hoping to probe into the mind of one of the most brilliant men ever to live will be sadly disappointed. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten adapted this film from Jane Hawking’s book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) is not a physicist and despite a quippy little scene where she gets to flex her muscles a bit, she doesn’t claim to be. The film barely looks at the science involved in the man’s story. Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) is definitely a leading player here, but because the film is adapted from the story of Jane Hawking, she seems to hold a lot more screen time than you would expect in a film that’s attracting an audience because of the role her co-star is playing.
It’s unlikely that a film about physics would hold anyone’s attention for very long. We go to the movies to be entertained, not for a science lecture. So where’s the entertainment in this story? Well, we all love a good romance and the Hawkings certainly have an interesting one to tell. And while a romance story is much more likely to draw an audience than a physics lecture, Stephen Hawking was made famous by his brilliance in physics and only enough of it to push that part of the story forward is shown. Yes, Hawking has Lou Gehrig’s disease and that takes up a large chunk of the film but the man’s brilliance is unfairly glossed over in favor of an underdog story where the protagonist isn’t even an underdog – just an inconvenienced pioneer of human knowledge.
The acting in this film is absolutely phenomenal. Felicity Jones is absolutely brilliant as is Eddie Redmayne. Even before the release of the film, Oscar-buzz was being generated around Eddie Redmayne. This isn’t uncommon for biopics (David Oyelowo is already in talks to be nominated for Selma which doesn’t hit theatres for another couple months). I do worry that we’ve gotten too complacent with just handing the Oscar to whoever played a real person. I don’t want to discredit Redmayne’s performance (which was absolutely brilliant) and I don’t want to discredit anyone who’s gotten the Oscar in the past (Daniel Day Lewis in 2013), but the word “automatic” seems to get thrown around in this discussion and it shouldn’t even be brought up.
One of the most shocking things I didn’t expect in the film is the cinematography. It is absolutely GORGEOUS. Veteran DP Benoît Delhomme flawlessly paints amazing colors and lights on every scene. It’s an incredibly colorful film with different scenes painted in blue, yellow, green, and every other color of light. The visual appeal of the film is absolutely spectacular and is almost worth watching just on that alone.
The Theory of Everything is a spectacular film, to be sure, but one not infallible to the problems that come along with trying to portray the life and times of someone from real life. Despite this, I, for one, will be shocked if it doesn’t get any Oscar nods.
Final grade: A-