The Theory of Everything (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
Ph.D. student Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is given news that he has two years to live. After a thorough examination, doctors conclude that he has a motor neuron disease which will inevitably result to gradual muscle decay, wasting away, and his ability to control voluntary movement will be lost entirely. We all know that Dr. Hawking will surpass the given life expectancy and so one of the challenges of the film, adapted to the screen by Anthony McCarten from Jane Hawking’s memoir, is to construct an arc that feels complete, from the moment Hawking received the terrible news until the publication of his book, “A Brief History of Time.”
Throughout the course of the picture, I admired Redmayne’s very human performance. He is able to turn a renowned astrophysicist into just another person afflicted by a disease that has no cure and yet provide colorful, complex layers, especially during the final third in which the subject is no longer able to speak. I imagined how difficult it must have been to play the character convincingly because every limb and facial expression must be on point—even if the camera is capturing images only from the chest up.
To be consistent in his portrayal take after take must have required a lot of effort, research, and determination. The way he is able to contort his face and fingers appears highly uncomfortable but nonetheless convincing. To top it off, not once does Redmayne forget to communicate with his eyes. They are always strong and alive even when the character’s body is weak and frail.
I was surprised and disappointed that the picture is not really about the science behind Hawking’s theories. There are some science, simplistic enough to be understood by laymen but still interesting enough for those who would like to know more. The movie is more about the relationship between Stephen and Jane (Felicity Jones) and the love they shared. Although their partnership comes across as too glossy at times, there are enough moments of honesty that are painful, like Jane having to push herself to be with Stephen in their later years even if it no longer felt right. The push-and-pull between Jane wanting to stay and leave is great drama because it is essentially a question of doing the right thing. But for whom?
Although the score is a bit overbearing at times, the picture is beautifully photographed. The first half is bathed in a bright yellow glow, signifying optimism, youth, a surplus of energy and inspiration to tackle what the world has to offer head-on. The second half, on the other hand, is considerably less saturated, as if to reflect the subject’s physical decay. The characters move a little slower, their faces more saggy, a bit grey. A certain level of acceptance is in the air.
“The Theory of Everything” is able to hone in on what is important to Stephen and Jane, together and respectively, and that is why it works. I felt a bit of dread when I began to realize that the romance would comprise about half of the running time. Instead, it surprised me because I grew to invest in Jane and Stephen as a couple, that romance is not just reflected in maintaining a marriage but in the compatibility of souls.