Screened Out – The Theory of Everything

By : Stephen Miller
Comments: 0

Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson

What an odd choice! Stephen Hawking is one of the great scientific thinkers of our time – a brilliant mind struck by Lou Gehrig’s disease, bound to a wheelchair, and speaking through a computer. He penned the truly world-changing book A Brief History of Time. Those of us who know more of his biography may marvel at his having three kids and a twenty-year marriage. This exceedingly romantic flick delves into his relationship with his wife, Jane Wilde.

This biopic’s concentration on love certainly humanizes Hawking. Unfortunately, Everything is also short on Hawking’s scientific ponderings, filled with schmaltzy moments, and oftentimes burdened with protracted scenes. What makes it a worthy film are small artistic touches by director James Marsh (Man on a Wire) and the extraordinarily strong performances by its leads, Jones (Spiderman 2) and especially Redmayne (Les Miserables, My Week with Marilyn).

Redmayne is actually quite amazing – an unexpectedly effective turn from all of his other performances. He shows Hawking’s slow degradation from a gangly, clutzy English scholar to a man shrunken and crippled. Through Redmayne’s performance, we understand how Hawking willfully ignored the signs of his condition, or perhaps he was so lost in thought. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I was quite amazed at how, through the film, the actor transformed himself into the lopsided man with little to no muscle control. Through it all, Redmayne shows respect to Hawking, never simply impersonating. Redmayne also captures Hawking’s self-effacing humor, often limited to acting with his eyes.

Eddie Redmayne's transformation is uncomfortable and amazing.

Eddie Redmayne’s transformation is uncomfortable and amazing.

This movie is based on Jane Hawking’s book; yet, in portraying her, Jones has a harder time. Somehow, Jane saw something in brainy, distant Stephen that made her love him; it’s a more romantic than practical marriage, and this film largely asks us to accept their love on faith. Her dedication actually comes across as something more based on self-flagellation and saintliness. Yet, Jones makes us see Jane for a fully realized character within this limited context. This is despite many other reports that the Hawkings’ marriage was actually even more complicated.

The relationship between Hawking and his wife was always fascinating, filled with unexpected twists and infidelities (like the family’s dependence on a recently widowed man for help. Cox carefully plays this role; it’s also his best performance yet.) The real Hawking, now 72, has said Everything is true “in broad strokes.”

The real Stephen Hawking has been cautiously positive about this film.

The real Stephen Hawking has been cautiously positive about this film.

I just wish it wasn’t unnecessarily mawkish and melodramatic. When two people kiss, the gray scene is swept with golden light, and Johann Johannson’s beautiful score swells in melancholy, minor chords. Some people love this; I feel manipulated.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Yet, Marsh also exposes the beautiful shot, and the odd perspective for showing the progression of Hawking’s disease. The make-up and set decoration are subtly effective. More noticeable, it feels Marsh found the film in the cutting room. How else can we explain some of the wonky edits to show the passage of time? Also, this explains how Oscar-nominated actress Watson gets introduced so awkwardly, only to deliver two lines and never be seen again.

The Theory of Everything isn’t everything. In the end, this is a terrible biopic about a genius and his unique way of exploring our universe. Yet, it’s a fascinating romance about an unusual marriage; it’s absolutely saved by surprisingly strong performances. If you are scared of science, but you love a good, two-hanky love story, this might be your great discovery.

Share this story: