Movie Review: 'The Theory of Everything' (2014)

James Marsh’s biopic tells the “loved” story of Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane. Meeting at Cambridge in the early 1960’s, the two academics meet at a party and are quickly smitten with each other. Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), a scientific minded atheist, falls for the humanities oriented and religious Jane (Felicity Jones), opposites as the saying goes; attract.

From the outset there are tensions as their differing ideologies play a role in both bringing them together and tearing them apart. However Jane’s enduring idealism overcomes this hurdle, a theme that is continued when she fights for their future despite Stephen’s crushing ALS diagnosis.

Her desire to see him triumph stirs him to surmount odds not at first afforded to him. As the film lays the groundwork for their bond, it also pulls at its foundation by making it clear there are chasms from the start.

Adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s book “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen”, screenwriter Anthony McCarten treads lightly on the details as Redmayne and Jones are tasked with portraying the subtle deterioration of the Hawkings’ marriage with little textual provocation to back them up.

In this regard, the movie asks more questions than it answers, which is a tad frustrating. The subtle hinting at big moments is so timidly explored that it makes one wonder why it was ever acknowledged in the first place. You can feel the silk gloves grasp around the story’s every move, as the camera pans away when things turn too candid.

Benoit Delhomme’s stunning cinematography gives the film a crisp golden feel that plays like a vintage home movie, imbuing the proceedings with a behind-the-scenes feel. “The Theory of Everything” can be a bit too quite at times, giving way to further uneasiness in unexplained moments, which is a shame given Johann Johannson’s original score is positively magnificent.

As time marches on or rather stands still, it swirls without distinct measure with only the age of the Hawking children serving to mark its passing, events unraveling without any perspective.

The triumph of the film rests with the performances of Redmayne and Jones, who shoulder the film with remarkable nuance. Redmayne utterly disappears into the skin of Hawking, in an all consuming performance that masters Hawking’s physicality and speech patterns to impressionistic genius. 

An actor’s greatest tool is their physical self and as that is slowly stripped away; Redmayne consistently finds a way to convey Hawking elsewhere, whether it be in the smallest glance or gesture. 

He is equally matched by his co-star Felicity Jones who portrays Jane’s ferocity, quiet resolve and romanticism with a staggeringly understated vulnerability that steers the role away from any hint of melodrama. She’s refined and complicated, distant without ever seeming cold.

Together, Jones and Redmayne hold the film together, exceeding every emotional beat they have to play. Elsewhere, Charlie Cox handles his tricky role as a well-meaning, incidental interloper with a pivotally believable decorum.

“The Theory of Everything” motivates one to investigate further and in doing so creates a response far more powerful than spoon fed details might have rendered. In remaining unconventionally withdrawn, it lets one know this isn’t the full story.

Where other biopics have given the appearance of answering every titillating detail, they have given the viewer a false perception that they have learned the raw truth about its subjects and “The Theory of Everything” never does that.

It is not a pretender; it is politely secretive without being deceptive and provocative enough to make one mighty curious. It is an approach that in the end, serves it well.

As a film it is moving, tender and poignant without seeming weepy. It is dignified and knowingly inspirational, while avoiding the underlying potential to portray its subjects as saints. These are two real-life people who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances, both rising and falling to the occasion, their story a breathtaking tip of the hat to humanity’s vast capacity for resilience. Rating: 7.8/10