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Friday, November 14, 2014
The Theory Of Everything
Love Of Physics: Easy; Relationships Of Beings: Hard
Jones as Jane Hawking (to be) and Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in James
Marsh's romantic drama "The Theory Of Everything".
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Based on the memoir of Jane Wilde Hawking, "The Theory Of Everything" is a
sparkling, open-hearted gem of a film, percolating with spirit, possibility and
rebirth. Sometimes the film is too polished, but Eddie Redmayne
brilliantly captures the spectrum of feeling, physicality and despair in his
portrayal of legendary British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who has
Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS. The physical challenges don't impede the joy
of science and physics. Yet James Marsh ("Man On Wire") directs a film
more about the chemical imbalance of human relationships rather than
unassailable quests for formula-driven achievements.
Jane (Felicity Jones) and Stephen meet soon after the film starts in Cambridge,
England, where Mr. Hawking is a student and budding physicist. The love
story begins, floats with a twinkle and effervescence before the hardships and
adversities arrive. Mr. Hawking says a few nothings, and Jane smiles,
entranced and taken with him. It's a potion that brews effortlessly.
Then the drama comes.
Much of "The Theory Of Everything" is shot beautifully by Benoit Delhomme in a
fairy-tale golden light and overall brightness. In the most adverse
situations there's a bit of a gleam in the film's eye that betrays some of the
rawness and purity of Mr. and Mrs. Hawking's tribulations. Any
long-standing accusations of misogyny in the world-renowned physicist are tamped
down, while Ms. Hawking herself comes across as a risible and contemptible
figure on occasion. I got the feeling she played a deeper role in the
physicist's successes and stability than the film necessarily gives her credit
What the film gets so very right is the mathematics of complex human
relationships, the nuances and circumferences, if you will, of at least three
people (including Jane's lover and eventual new husband Jonathan) who are
isolated, lonely but manage to work collaboratively for mutual benefit.
The film gives each their space, sympathy and private anguish but portrays Mr.
Hawking as the source of much of it where Jane and Jonathan are concerned.
Life isn't fair, but even for cinema's sake this trio of characters' alienation
and empirical reasons for it feels truncated. Their plights at times felt
too convenient, simplistic and surface-driven, but I appreciated the larger
effort to convey how love, desire and passion for various things is sometimes
denied or delayed.
At least Mr. Marsh's (and screenwriter Anthony McCarten's) striving for balance
takes the focus off Mr. Redmayne's character and avoids miring him in pity.
In part of the second and much of the third act the lead character is less a
factor in the tale Mr. McCarten writes. The celluloid Hawking looks like a
prop for Jane and Jonathan to cruelly bounce things off or slings things at.
But both of them love and care about him, and the film is a triangular love
story about compassion and compatibility. "The Theory Of Everything" isn't
devoid of some of the usual flourishes or clichés you'd expect in films about
living with disabilities and major impediments, but I think this enjoyable,
absorbing and entertaining film succeeds largely in spite of itself.
Mr. Hawking's charisma and atheism is on display but not enough of his cutting,
caustic remarks are. Still, "Theory" captures the energy, curiosity and
eternally youthful, boundless passion Mr. Hawking still has. It's a
mischievous Hawking and a top-class performance from Mr. Redmayne, whom I've
felt has been a fine actor for a long while. As Hawking he conveys
silence, speech, mental acuity and stimulation of physics with care,
choreography and verve.
When I recently spoke to Mr. Redmayne about his portrayal he told me he had
hired a choreographer to help him with the gradation of movement in the stages
of Mr. Hawking's life. Mr. Redmayne had access to dailies so as to work on
positioning and the degree of angle in movement of his character across
different years in typically out-of-sequence filming. Mr. Redmayne's focus
is keen, disciplined and it shows on screen. It's a mathematical,
considered and well-structured performance that genuinely merits an Oscar
I wish the character as written had gone even further with his passion for
physics and debunking his own theories. Mr. McCarten's script, which ties
love among people in a mathematical equation-like manner to the universe, is, in
one or two areas, a bit of a let down. The process of cherry-picking from
Ms. Hawking's memoir Travelling To Infinity may or may not have been a
minefield or presented the filmmakers with a quandary.
Regardless, the overall ideas are there and largely fit. Stylistically
however, in saturation terms, is where the film's big flaw lies. The
challenges Mr. Hawking faces with ALS are clear but at times "The Theory Of
Everything" focuses predominantly on its lead character's surviving with ALS
rather than his groundbreaking, historic achievements. (By the way, Mr.
Hawking himself gave permission to filmmakers for an exclusive use of his
computerized voice, which appears in the film.)
Admittedly films about figures with physical limitations, particularly notable
figures, face a common challenge: portraying that figure without exploiting or
martyring them into submission. I loved "The Diving Bell And The
Butterfly" years ago but on reflection it may have suffered from this. In
contrast "My Left Foot" had a purity, nakedness and non-romanticism "The Theory Of
Everything" lacks. I felt something deep and unquenchable in "Left Foot":
pride and guts. Different stories, yes, but it's worth noting that Mr.
Hawking's early economic background wasn't so dissimilar to "Left Foot"'s
Christy Brown's. A film like "Theory" could have gone a little more
"dark", so to speak, than it does, but then again it may have been mawkish.
It's a delicate, balance, which is finely struck.
Aside from Mr. Redmayne's very good work all the performances are more than
satisfactory, notably Ms. Jones ("Like
Crazy"). You can't argue with the film's heart, even if, like
any movie, "The Theory Of Everything", a magical, mystical and beautiful film,
Also with: Charlie Cox, Harry Lloyd, Simon McBurney, Emily Watson, David
Thewlis, Charlotte Hope, Maxine Peake.
"The Theory Of Everything" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for
some thematic elements and suggestive material. Its running time is two
hours and three minutes.
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