********* 8 out of 10 *********
Director: James Marsh
Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
What would the world have been without those genius minds that have shaped mankind’s future? What it would have been without the Newtons, the Edisons, the Einsteins, and the Bohrs? Probably a darker humdrum place, devoid of exclamations of “Eureka”. We owe a lot to these men and women, for even some of the smallest aspects of our common daily lives find a footing in their work. Some of these great brilliant minds have also led quite incredible personal lives, few of which though could match that of Stephen Hawking. Detected with motor neuron disease at the age of 21, and then told that he had only two years to live, Hawking has gone on to defy the odds and show the world the limitless boundaries of human endurance. Hawking’s story deserved a special place in the cabinets of Hollywood, which The Theory of Everything has now provided, a movie which brings forth not only the human strength of Stephen Hawking to put up a brave front despite his deteriorating physical condition, but also that of his wife of 30-odd years, Jane Wilde, who had her own battles to fight.
The Theory of Everything is based on the memoirs of Jane Wilde titled Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. It begins with the first meeting of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Wilde (Felicity Jones) at a party at Cambridge. The story then follows the course of their relationship, while in parallel we learn about Stephen Hawking’s worsening physical condition and at the same time, his growing global fame. The relationship between the couple goes through its ups and downs, though it ain’t typical of any other relationship for this is Stephen Hawking we are talking of. The movie acknowledges the difficulties that both face, while also time and again displays the love between the two.
The screenplay by Anthony McCarten is fantastic; fantastic in its simplicity! McCarten has worked on bringing out the important elements of the relationship between Hawking and Wilde, giving each moment its due time on screen and never neglecting the role of either character in any section of the movie. It does not trip over too many emotions or too much drama, but gradually moves from one phase to another just like the chapters change in a play, nevertheless making a strong impression with each chapter. Director James Marsh has superbly used this screenplay to create two strong characters in the movie, both of whom are worthy of admiration. But Marsh has given them their failings too, which has kept them human, a task that is not that easy to do in a biopic based on a globally popular figure like Stephen Hawking. James Marsh does not have any strong body of work prior to this movie, and so it comes as a bit of a surprise as to the delicacy with which he has handled the subject matter and the perfection with which he has directed The Theory of Everything. This should really set the path for a stronger career for James Marsh in Hollywood.
I would like to believe that a similar strong career path now lies in front of the leading man of the movie, Eddie Redmayne. He has already won a Golden Globe for his depiction of Stephen Hawking, and has an Oscar nomination in the bag too. The awards though still do not do justice to the performance that Redmayne has put in the movie. It is undoubtedly one of the best performances of 2014, and taking it a step further, it can also be called one of the best performances seen on the big screen over the last five years. The challenges in front of Redmayne were enormous; he had to physically alter his looks, his walk, his speech, and even the twitches of his muscles, more than once to show the different stages that Hawking went through as his condition worsened. Not only that, Redmayne’s challenge grew further since the movie’s scenes were not necessarily shot in a chronological manner. To say that Redmayne still achieved this transformation with perfection will be an understatement. Beyond the physical challenge, Redmayne also captured the emotional difficulties that Hawking would have faced as he came to terms with the lifestyle he would have to live. In all that, Redmayne did not forget to display the awkwardness and shyness of a geek, the humor typical of Hawking, and the elation and despairs of a genius who is in search of a deeper understanding of time and universe. Eddie Redmayne gives a knock-out performance that will be as unforgettable as Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln!
The Theory of Everything is not about Stephen Hawking alone. From the opening scene till the last one, Jane Wilde remains as integral to the story as Hawking. And so it needed a strong performance from Felicity Jones to match that of Eddie Redmayne. Which she delivers with aplomb! Felicity Jones comes across as a fierce and independent woman who is ready to sacrifice a lot to make her relationship with Hawking work. Her determination is admirable, her occasional breakdowns are understandable, but her love for Hawking is undeniable. Felicity Jones matches Redmayne in each scene, as both complement each other, both equally needed to fit the piece on-screen together. It reminded me in ways of Jennifer Connelly’s Oscar winning performance in A Beautiful Mind, that is how highly I rate Felicity Jones’ performance. Great movies usually have a supporting cast which also remains memorable, and the same can be said here about the strong performances given by Charlie Cox as Jonathan Jones who helps in taking care of Hawking, Maxine Peaks as Elaine Mason who is employed as a nurse for Hawking, Harry Lloyd as Hawking’s roommate and David Thewlis as his professor. And of course Stephen Hawking himself providing his computerized voice for the latter part of the movie.
The Theory of Everything shows Stephen Hawking as a mild-mannered genius who pulls off ground-breaking achievements despite great difficulties, which is true indeed, and a inspiration for so many. The real Stephen Hawking though has also been painted as a control freak and a not-so-easy person to be around. Even if that is the case, James Marsh chooses to ignore that side of Hawking’s personality to suit the temperament of his movie. Which is fine with me, for as I have said many times before, a movie based on true events need not turn out to be a documentary film; instead it can still choose to take some liberties so as to meet the need of the audience to be entertained. The Theory of Everything does that effectively; it is a moving piece of work, so beautifully created that it would be difficult to not feel a strong connection with the movie’s events. Watching this tale unfold on screen has been a joy indeed!