Wednesday, November 05, 2014

“The Theory Of Everything”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new biographical drama, “The Theory Of Everything”, the story of Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane; it stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. 


After Stephen Hawking is diagnosed with a fatal illness, he gets married and starts a family while continuing his work as a physicist – but when he outlives predictions of his death, will his debilitating disease also debilitate his marriage?


In 1963, Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) is studying at England’s Cambridge University to earn a PhD in physics when he meets Jane (Jones), a student focusing on poetry.  Impressed with Stephen’s intelligence, Jane finds herself drawn to him and they wind up spending an increasing amount of time together.  One day, Stephen suffers a fall and is hospitalized; after physicians run a battery of tests on him, Stephen is told that he has an incurable progressive neurological disorder and the grim prognosis is that he will succumb to it in approximately two years.

Jane remains undaunted by the tragic news and convinces him that they should marry; shortly thereafter, they begin a family and Stephen lives long enough to see his children reach school age – proving the doctors’ estimates of his life expectancy wrong.  Over time, however, Stephen’s health deteriorates; between caring for him and their children, Jane is understandably worn down.  They agree to take in Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a local music teacher, to help Jane take care of Stephen while she tends to the children.  Eventually, the arrangement is forced to end when suspicions arise that Jane and Jonathan are having an affair. 

When Stephen is hospitalized with pneumonia, he must undergo a tracheotomy, which results in the loss of his ability to speak.  Needing professional help with her husband’s worsening condition, Jane hires Elaine (Maxine Peake), a nurse who teaches Stephen how to communicate despite his lack of speech.  Inspired to write the book that will eventually become “A Brief History Of Time”, Stephen ultimately finds that he is falling in love with Elaine.  But will Stephen’s new-found feelings for Elaine cause the end of his marriage to Jane or will their love overcome Stephen’s temptation?



The performances of Redmayne and Jones make “The Theory Of Everything” worth seeing, but it is Redmayne, contorting his face and body as he portrays an ever-diminished Hawking, that really stands out.  Part of the problem, however, is that as Hawking’s motor skills deteriorated, so did his ability to speak; as a result, Redmayne is periodically difficult to understand when he articulates his lines.  Jones’ version of Jane doesn’t appear as a saint so much as a strong-willed woman who knew early on what she wanted then went out to get it and remained dedicated even in life’s bleakest moments.  

That said, it is worth questioning how true the movie is to The Hawkings’ real life, especially when considering that it is based on a book written by the former Mrs. Hawking.  Neither Stephen nor Jane come across as flawless, but they do seem almost blameless even in their personal shortcomings.  While both are presented as heroic, it is Jane who is conveyed even more so because it was her choice to remain with her husband; her self-sacrificing nature makes her loyal to a fault.  Again, based on her book, how could Jane be otherwise?

“The Theory Of Everything” is both a biography and a romance – albeit one that may challenge the traditional notion of what a happy ending might be.  What makes the story so unbelievable is the fact that it is true; if this had been based on a novel, an audience’s suspension of disbelief would likely be tested, to say the least.  While no one could question Hawking’s brilliance, it would not be out of order to question his ethics, especially when his notoriety grew.  The fact that the movie relentlessly holds this extraordinary scientist in the highest esteem may be its greatest failing – that he is never colored as a villain at any point doesn’t necessarily ring true. 

The Theory of Everything (2014) on IMDb

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