Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#1,647. The Theory of Everything (2014)

Directed By: James Marsh

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior

Tag line: "His mind changed our world. Her love changed his"

Trivia: It took writer Anthony McCarten 10 years to bring this story to the screen

It was while watching the documentary mini-series Stephen Hawking’s Universe in the late ’90s that I first became aware of how brilliant Stephen Hawking was, and the fact that he’s been able to delve so deeply into the mysteries of the universe while confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak, is amazing, to say the least (for years, Hawking has suffered the debilitating effects of ALS, a disease that attacks the body’s muscle tissue, eventually leading to paralysis). The 2014 film The Theory of Everything, a biopic / romance directed by James Marsh, is Hawking’s story, as told by the woman who stood beside him for so many years.

We begin in 1963, when Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was a spry, athletic student at Cambridge, majoring in astrophysics. While at a campus party, he meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), an arts major, and before long the two are seeing each other on a regular basis. It’s clear to everyone, including his hard-edged instructor, Dennis (David Thewlis), that Stephen Hawking has an exceptional mind. Unfortunately, it was around this time his body began to fail him. Diagnosed with ALS, doctors gave Stephen 2 years to live. Not wanting to waste a moment of the time they had left, Stephen and Jane married, and though his disease grew steadily worse, he managed to complete his doctorate at Cambridge, graduating with full honors. As he continued working on his theories regarding black holes and the origin of the universe, Jane was busy raising the couple’s children and doing everything she could to make her husband (who was now confined to a wheelchair) as comfortable as possible. In an effort to alleviate the pressures of her everyday life, Jane joins a church choir, where she meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), who, over time, becomes a regular fixture at the Hawking household, assisting Jane any way he can. Things get a bit more complicated, however, when Jonathan confesses to Jane that he’s developed feelings for her. To her surprise, and despite her continued dedication to her husband’s career, Jane finds she has feelings of her own for Jonathan, resulting in complications that neither of them anticipated.

Eddie Redmayne delivers a remarkable performance as Stephen Hawking, a role that was clearly as physically demanding as it was emotionally (there are times later in the film when he’s so spot-on that you have to remind yourself you’re watching an actor portray Stephen Hawking, and not Hawking himself). Ultimately, though, The Theory of Everything is as much Jane’s story as it is Stephen’s (the movie was based on her novel Traveling to Infinity: My life with Stephen), and Felicity Jones was up to the challenge, conveying the love and devotion her character felt for her husband, as well as the frustrations she faced on an almost daily basis as his condition worsened. If nothing else, The Theory of Everything proves that the time-honored cliché “Behind every great man is a woman” is 100% accurate.

With its tale of true love triumphing in the face of adversity, The Theory of Everything had all the makings of a weepie movie-of-the-week. Thanks to the incredible work of both Redmayne and Jones, it never once falls into that trap.

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