'The Theory of Everything'
Given his cultural importance in the 20th Century and the tragic illness that he overcame to achieve that success, it was inevitable that one day someone would give Stephen Hawking a weepy bio-pic. Thankfully, the one that finally arrived is entirely watchable and filled with wonderful moments, even if it’s as episodic and slightly white-washed as one would expect.
Eddie Redmayne stars in an extraordinary central performance, which begins during Hawking’s PHD study in Cambridge. While simultaneously developing the theories that would make him a scientific legend and falling deeply in love with Jane (Felicity Jones), Hawking is diagnosed with motor neuron disease, which will soon prevent him from moving and even speaking. Initially given a two-year death sentence, he overcomes the disease, finds true love, and cracks mysteries of the universe that have confounded science for generations.
The core of the film is the extraordinary dramatic irony of Hawking as a man whose mind reaches new heights as his body collapses. Redmayne undergoes a remarkable physical transformation without ever losing the warmth and humor of his subject. Director James Marsh (‘Man on Wire’) creates some beautiful ways of visualizing his thoughts and theories. The problem with the film is its heart: the love story between Hawking and Jane. On face value, it’s very moving and inspiring and all the things that it desperately wants to be. Unfortunately, it feels a bit romanticized, with Hawking’s eventual womanizing glossed over, and their children are essentially reduced to sentimental props. It’s a simplistic depiction of the conclusion of an incredibly complex relationship, yet thankfully not a movie killer.
Everything until the somewhat lazy finale is handled with impressive style, grace and skill. Within the genre of feel-good bio-pics that this title clearly falls into, it’s a pretty impressive piece of work. Sure, the movie misses an opportunity to explore the darker side of this story, but let’s face it, no one is ever going to make the ‘Raging Bull’ of Stephen Hawking bio-pics, and it’s not like the guy deserves one either. This is about as good of a Hawking bio-pic as we’re ever likely to see, and that’s just fine.