Every year, there is at least one biographic film about someone who accomplished great things in his or her life, whether it’s something artistic, scientific, or otherwise. This year’s biopic of note is The Theory of Everything, which tells the story of Professor Stephen Hawking and his ex-wife, Jane Hawking.
Based on Jane Hawking’s book, Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the film touches a bit on Hawking’s work as a scientist, but focuses more on his relationship with Jane and how things change as their relationship and his disease begin to develop. It is an intimate series of moments of their lives together.
The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Release Date: November 7th, 2014
In the long list of biographic films, the one thing that seems to be the most important is the casting. Taking on the roll of someone so important to our culture is a daunting task, but it is one that Eddie Redmayne was clearly more than able to perform. There was not a moment where he did not feel genuine, and it was incredible to see him slip so easily into character. It’s not hard to imagine that he’ll be up for an Oscar in the next few months.
Felicity Jones was in every way Redmayne’s equal as Jane Hawking. Though she looked delicate, she brought a lot of dignity and a certain level of toughness to the table. If this film is any indicator of what Jane Hawking is like, she is a truly amazing, strong woman, and Jones’ portrayal of her is not one to be missed.
Love, of course, is the ultimate theme of this film. Stephen and Jane meet almost as soon as the story starts, and have an awkward courtship involving conversations about Tide and religion. They fall hard and fast for each other, and even when Jane learns of Stephen’s diagnosis of ALS, she doesn’t shy away from him, even though at first he tries to tell her to leave. Their love starts out as an intense, bright feeling, but as time goes on, it grows quiet. Jane becomes overwhelmed by her responsibility of caring for Stephen and their children, and meets a man named Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), who begins helping out with the family.
When that happened, I was a little concerned that the film was going to try to make Jane into some sort of villain for having feelings for Jonathan, but it didn’t. Instead, it only felt natural. As it did when Elaine, Stephen’s nurse who would later become his second wife, entered the picture. While the main theme of The Theory of Everything is love, it’s about different kinds of love. Maybe Stephen and Jane are soul mates, but even soul mates aren’t necessarily always meant to be together in a romantic sense.
Story-wise, the thing that got me the most, was the sense of loneliness in these two people at different points in the film. When Stephen first learns that he’s sick, he is by himself in the hospital. Knowing that one day, he would be trapped in his own body with no way to communicate, despite having all these brilliant ideas is terrifying, and it’s easy to see how he felt through Redmayne’s performance and through the shot choices of the director. The other moment is much shorter. Jane walks alone on a bridge and for the first time in the film, we see her cry. After so much time of putting on a brave face for her husband and her children, the only time she can let herself give in to how she feels is when she’s alone.
This is a very pretty film, full of sprawling shots of Cambridge and pastel colors. The grainy, home-video type sequences that give glimpses into Stephen and Jane’s marriage and the beginning of their family are a nice break from the development of Stephen’s illness.
When it comes down to it, though, even with the incredible actors and pretty scenery, The Theory of Everything isn’t really all that different from other biopics. It seems almost like there’s a formula for these movies now, where the audience gets glimpses into these people’s lives over a specific period of time. So while I enjoyed the film, it doesn’t really do anything special or innovative, which honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to.
Still, while it might not be that unique of a movie, its message is an optimistic one. Stephen Hawking is a man who was given two years to live, and even now, at 72 years old, he defies those odds. Even though he and Jane did not stay together as husband and wife, they remain close, so while their love changed, it never really seemed to dwindle.