Director James Marsh Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Simon McBurney, Emily Watson, Abigail Cruttenden, Guy Oliver-Watts, Maxine Peake, Harry Lloyd
Some stories are just so amazing they simply cannot be imagined or made up. They come in many forms, from serial killers to harrowing tales of survival to rags-to-riches tales. More often than not (except maybe the serial killers) the moral of the story is anyone is capable of great achievement, and if you’re in need of a source of inspiration you can always learn from someone in history who defied all the odds and, because of this, became an exceptional figure.
The Theory Of Everything is that moral on film and a story you can’t fictionalise. The history of Stephen Hawking, hell, his entire existence, is proof that anything can be accomplished. The man has exceeded all expectations, from life expectancy to the advances in physics. He is a perfect example of the man who doesn’t let his disability define him and a role model, whether he likes it or not.
He is an inspiration to anyone who ever thought themselves incapable in any facet. This guy can move almost naught of his body and yet look at what he attained, not just in physics but in general life. Just think, he’s alive and working in 2015; he was given two years to live in 1963…
The film has no discernible opening. It just begins with twenty-one year old astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) on his bicycle, with a focus on the use of his feet, as him and his friends ride to a party. Here he meets the young Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), and despite his shy awkwardness the two hit it off.
The film is quick to highlight Stephen’s brilliance by having him solve mathematical equations far beyond his education, and juxtaposes it against his lack of social skills, highlighted by an awkward interaction with Jane in a pub. Solving the equations results in an invite by his professor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) to a lecture concerning black holes. At first he’s unfocussed and disinterested, having no subject for his upcoming thesis, but after the lecture he begins to develop his theory on the creation of the universe. He decides it will be on time.
After that his relationship with Jane begins to take off, but then comes the moment he’s diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or motor neuron disease. Somehow he manages to take comfort in knowing his brain will be unaffected but underneath he’s in turmoil with his shortly impending death, and his relationship with Jane suffers. Despite a brief moment of vulnerability in which he tries to ward off her advances he keeps himself afloat with his charming wit, which comes to the fore as the disease begins to take over and his speech starts to disappear. Stephen’s well-being and his research are on opposite trajectories; as his health deteriorates his theories come along in leaps and bounds. Though his final thesis is lacking in areas it is considered revolutionary and he earns his doctorate.
The film then effortlessly shifts focus to that of Jane, who refuses to leave Stephen and devotes her life to taking care of him and their three children. Begrudgingly accepting the use of a wheelchair, Stephen relies on Jane to take care of him completely, but while Stephen’s career continues to advance Jane struggles with a longing to explore her own aspirations. At the behest of her mother Beryl (Emily Watson) she attends her church choir, where she meets Jonathon Jones (Charlie Cox), a nice-natured man who befriends Jane, sympathises with her and agrees to help alleviate her stress and depression, becoming a friend of the family.
Into the final act the film finds perfect balance between Stephen and Jane and turns into more of a straight-forward story with nothing underlying. Now unable to speak, Stephen uses his newly-acquired voice synthesiser and computer to write his international best-seller, A Brief History Of Time, propelling him to new-found fame. This is the final nail in the coffin between him and Jane, now both so distant Stephen has found love in his live-in nurse Elaine (Maxine Peake).
While lecturing in America Stephen sees a student drop a pen, the same insignificant occurrence that signalled the beginning of his illness. He’s almost brought to tears as he imagines himself standing and walking again to pick it up, but instead gives a stirring speech on human endeavour, saying that where there is life there is hope. He receives a standing ovation.
Sometime later Jane, now living with Jonathan, receives an invitation from Stephen to attend a meeting with the Queen. As they talk in the courtyard Stephen acknowledges their children playing, and after having taken so much interest in the creation of the universe he takes a moment to enjoy the world that he and Jane created together. Like Stephen’s earlier wish to reverse time so he can observe its beginnings, the film reverses to 1963, when Stephen and Jane first laid eyes on one another. The beginnings of their own world.
If anyone in the world has a justified reason to give up it’s Stephen Hawking. He has everything going against him but there is something inside of him that is unwilling to familiarise himself with the man with motor neuron disease. Instead he chooses to be defined not by his disease but by his achievements. That goal never changes but his motivations do.
The film is Stephen coming to terms with the pigeon-holed perception of being a man confined to a wheelchair. Early on he’s painted as indifferent in his studies, taking them for granted, but when illness sets in he realises that very soon his brain will be all he’s got. So he takes solace in knowing that though he may lose his physical abilities he can still complete his research. That is his ambition, while the belief that death is not only inevitable but imminent, and later his role-model status, are his incentives.
This has a ripple effect on him as a person. At first he’s a nerdy, shy boy who’s awkward in conversation, but by the time he’s using a computer to communicate he’s incredibly self-confident, and uses his dry wit and humour to deal with his personal demons. The more the disease takes over the stronger he becomes to the point that he can even convey jokes with a synthetic voice and no physical movement.
But it’s a third motivator, squeezed between the other two, that keep him going more than anything, as without this one the others would be unobtainable. For thirty years Jane essentially keeps him alive, and while it could be said that he tended to neglect her needs there’s no way he would have became such a renowned figure without her selfless efforts and sacrifice. They both share the same fierce determination to exhibit him as an example of the man who can do anything no matter the odds, only her actions take on a different form. While he channels his into his life’s work she channels hers into Stephen so he may do that work. It’s because of her love for him that he completes his thesis and earns his doctorate, and it’s because of her sacrifice that he endures and becomes the man we know him as today. She does it all to protect him, but leaves herself vulnerable, and as time goes by she slowly succumbs to the point that towards the end she simply has nothing left to offer.
Through her valiant efforts Stephen still manages to find some beauty in the life he’s led, shown when he’s with Jane in the courtyard watching their children, but despite this there’s this silently sad man who would give it all up to have his body back. This is highlighted when he imagines picking up a student’s pen during a lecture, which leaves him almost crying. Instead he gives a inspirational speech to prove his ailment doesn’t decide what he’s capable of, and in that moment makes peace with who he is. That scene summarises the person who is Stephen Hawking.
Eddie Redmayne is beyond amazing in this role. How he manages to express such a broad range of emotions with only a flick of the eyebrows dumbfounds me. It would be unimaginably hard to do and yet he expresses them effortlessly while maintaining a tedious balancing act of having to display the effects of MND right down to the minutest detail. From a slacking foot while walking and the slurring of his speech to the despondency, joy and humour he is spot-on perfect.
Felicity Jones shows a similar range of emotion without ever becoming melodramatic. She shows great strength with just the right amount of sensitivity through a look in her eye without them ever getting in the way of one another. It’s an incredibly honest interpretation from Jones, who studied and copied Jane’s mannerism’s and speech pattern’s in preparation, and in doing so has managed to portray Jane not just brilliantly but honestly too.
The supporting cast, while only receiving sparse screen-time, also manage to develop their characters. Charlie Cox is so nice and wholesome, his youthful look is perfect for Jonathan, while Maxine Peake has just the right amount of subconscious predatory home-wrecker in her without ever becoming a villain. The film could be criticised for holding out on the development of the relationships between Stephen and Elaine, and Jane and Jonathan, but at the end of the day the supporting cast made great use of the limited time they had, and it complimented the two stars perfectly. They all carry the film without ever stumbling.
The Making Of
Director James Marsh is incredibly good at using subjects, objects and scenarios in each shot as a form of expression and representation. The opening scene is Stephen on a bicycle and throughout we see shots of walking and dancing. Stephen is also seen as a coxswain on a rowing team, sitting and using his voice, a sign of things to come. Later the wheelchair becomes a point of reference when exhibiting Stephen’s feelings of being a burden; anyone who comes into contact with it experiences it negatively, such as having to carry it up steps, and the film is almost void of ramps. In this way Stephen’s emotions are touched upon but never expanded; he was unable to express it thanks to his illness, and the film reflects upon that.
The film focusses on Stephen and Jane’s relationship and the effect their lives had on one another. The screenplay is Anthony McCarten’s adaptation of Jane Wilde’s Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen so it’s no surprise that the film is more or less based on their lives together rather than what was going on below. Having said that it does seem to have a bit of tunnel vision as not once do they go outside these boundaries. We see little insight into Stephen’s work as the film seems more reluctant than anything to try and explain his complicated theories out of fear of losing the audience. Also, the thought of Jane as nothing more than a housewife is near absent, outside of one brief shot to remind us her studies in poetry. Because of this the scope of time is lost; I was shocked when I learned the time in this film spans twenty-seven years.
Regardless the screenplay is superb. What it lacks it more than makes up for in other ways, and while it never takes off it never settles on any one time period for too long, always maintaining decent pace and keeping me interested. The only real negative effect this non-depiction of time had was on the wardrobe and music departments. While there’s nothing wrong with the finished product those two departments seemed to miss the memo on what time periods are depicted, and because of this the film seems to stop visually in the late 70’s and aurally in the 60’s, never bothering to catch up with more modern times.
My score was a line-ball decision, but because I found there to be a lot of positives, in particular the two lead performances that are Oscar-worthy, I have to give it the benefit of the doubt. Unlike most biopics The Theory Of Everything doesn’t just show one brief snippet of a person’s life, nor is it a cavalcade of highlights that shaped said life, it’s their existence together from beginning to end told neatly within two hours. It fully explores the spectrum of human emotion with depth, making it an intriguing story that I do recommend.
Just like the film says, Stephen is an inspiration to anyone who ever thought they couldn’t. At it’s heart this is a love story, above that it’s a dramatic tale, but underneath it all is one little moral that is clearly stated and one I actually live my life by. It concisely sums up the mentality of Stephen Hawking.
Never lament what you have not, utilise what you have got.
8 of 10