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The Theory Of Everything – Review


Release Date: 1st January 2015
Director: James Marsh
Writer: Anthony McCarten [Screenplay] - Jane Hawking [Book]
Cast: Eddie Redmayne - Felicity Jones - Tom Prior - Harry Lloyd



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Posted November 19, 2014 by

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The Theory Of Everything Review:

is entirely possible that Stephen Hawking is too revered a figure in today’s world to have a great movie made about him. After all, nothing takes the edge off a drama like the presence of a saint. Hawking decidedly is not a saint, but he is so exemplary, so long-suffering, so brilliant, and so brave that it must have been nearly impossible for director James Marsh and screenwriter Anthony McCarten to imagine depicting the more sordid aspects of his life in their new movie The Theory of Everything. Yet we all have those sordid details, whether we flip burgers or re-imagine the universe for a living, and to make any of our stories interesting, those details probably need to be included.

It’s also possible that any movie about a hero whose life work is almost entirely theoretical would be similarly hampered. Writing equations on a blackboard, and simply thinking, which are the two primary activities involved in Hawking’s work, are not terribly photogenic. Just think about how many great movies about scientists you have seen. Now rule out the sci-fi and horror titles. It’s a slim list.

Given those handicaps, Marsh and McCarten actually do rather well. The Theory of Everything is a good, earnest movie. The fact that it never really revs into high gear keeps it from being a great one.

At its heart, The Theory of Everything boasts two excellent performances from Eddie Redmayne, who plays Hawking from his university days, when he meets and falls in love with Jane, through his diagnosis and declining physical condition, to his triumphant publication of A Brief History of Time and his refusal to accept knighthood in the late 1980s. It covers approximately 25 years, and if Redmayne does not age in an especially convincing manner, it could be because Hawking himself has always maintained a youthful, almost boyish, countenance. It is a physically demanding performance which Redmayne pulls off very well. He was already established as one of the best young film actors of his era and this only bolsters that reputation.

The real revelation is Jones, who manages to combine youthful naivete with a steely stubbornness that makes Jane’s difficult journey as the wife of a severely disabled celebrity seem very real. There is a scene early on, when Hawking’s father (Simon McBurney) advises the beautiful young literature student to forget about his son and movie on with her life. Jane responds that though she may not look like a strong person, she loves Stephen and is committed to seeing that love through, no matter how long it may last. It is a standout moment for the young actress.

SPOILER ALERT: The fact that Stephen and Jane eventually do split up is representative of what is problematic in the movie. They have great love and respect for each other. They are always kind. Stephen is tolerant of Jane’s very close relationship with their handsome friend Jonathan (Charlie Cox) while Jane treats Stephen with otherworldly patience. There are ample depictions of frustration, but there are no real blow ups. No explosive anger. In fact, for a movie about a man who has attempted to understand the nature of the explosion which may have kickstarted time, there is little in the way of human explosion. Stephen will eventually split from Jane in a very anti-climactic manner – one in which most of the emotion is left unsaid. He is doing it, so we are led to believe, as a final kindness to her, freeing her to live a normal life with Jonathan. But it remains a muted and ambiguous moment. That may fit for a movie about the ambiguity that surrounds us all, but whereas time may be infinite, film is not. We have two hours. At some point, the ambiguity needs to gel into a moment of drama.

There are other moments in The Theory of Everything where intimate subjects, such as sex and bathroom habits, crop up. They are uniformly addressed with a little laugh. It is all done in good humor. It is all done with that famous British resolve to grin and bear it. Everyone behaves themselves. If just a few times in the movie, they had not behaved so well, if things had gotten messy or ugly, the movie might have hit harder.

I also suspect that there may have been more cinematic methods through which Marsh could have depicted Stephen’s work. Film does seem particularly suited to take us on flights through multiple dimensions, through fast and slow motion. Marsh does engage in this a bit, and there is a sequence at the end which is truly lovely. But like the emotional temperature of the movie as a whole, those visual devices remain cool throughout.

The Theory of Everything was based on Jane Hawking’s book about her life with Stephen, and that also no doubt put everything in a softer focus. About twenty years ago, another wife of a famous man suffering from a disability had a hand in the production of a movie about her husband’s life. That man was the pianist David Helfgott and the movie was Shine. I am not a fan of Shine. It always has seemed to me that the point of view expressed in that movie was overly protective of Helfgott. The Theory of Everything does a far better job of handling that delicate issue, and is a significantly better film as a result. But it does fall into the same trap at times, and that prevents it from truly soaring.


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Jonathan Eig
Huffington Post
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One Comment

    Nancy E

    Thanks Jon. I’ve watched the previews and
    Decided it was on my list to see. I’ll be looking to see if I get the same feel. Seems like the acting might be so good that I might
    Over look the lack of script or directing.

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