The Theory of Everything – 2014
This was a good movie, but it is one of those films that was not as good as it thinks it is. It starred Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, with supporting roles by Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Simon McBurney, Emily Watson, and Maxine Peake. The cast all did a great job, especially the leads. Aside from its Best Picture nomination, the film received nominations for Best Actor, which Redmayne won, Best Actress for Jones, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.
It was the story of the world renowned physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, and his relationship with his first wife, Jane. It is important to note that distinction. It was not a movie about Professor Hawking’s career. It was the story of a relationship, set against the backdrop of his brilliant work. But even so, some critics complained about the fact that the film didn’t delve deeper into Stephen’s actual theories or explain why he is such a giant in his field. However, if you consider the source material, the movie’s focus makes perfect sense.
The script was not based on any of Stephen’s writings. Instead, it was based on the memoirs of Jane Hawking, entitled Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. Still, although I understand this point, I think the narrative might have been a little more engaging if Stephen’s career had been given more importance. That being said, it is important to note that the film’s director, James Marsh, and the screenwriter, Anthony McCarten, made a point of keeping the difficult theoretical science to a minimum for audiences who would probably not be able to understand most of it anyway.
Redmayne played Stephen Hawking, and he played the part so well, he took home the Oscar for Best Actor. It is easy to compare his performance to Daniel Day-Lewis in the wonderful movie My Left Foot, and while I think they both did some fantastic work, I have to say that Day-Lewis was better. But to give credit where credit is due, I must acknowledge that there was a fundamental difference between the two performances. In My Left Foot, Day-Lewis was a man who was born with a debilitating disease. In the Theory of Everything, Redmayne’s performance had to show the progression of a debilitating disease. This must have had its own difficulties, like filming scenes out of sequence and keeping track of the disease’s different stages.
The movie follows Stephen and Jane’s relationship from the day they met to their marriage, from their children to their infidelities, from their break-up to their reconciliation. It was a sweet and inspirational tale that was able to touch the heart in unexpected ways, though I have read that some of that was doctored up a little from what really happened. For example, in the movie, after both Stephen and Jane cheated on each other, the couple part tearfully but easily, and on good terms. In reality, Jane did not physically cheat on her husband before they were divorced. Also, as their marriage fell apart, there were screaming arguments and a letter from Stephen to his wife, telling her that he was leaving her for his new nursemaid, Elaine Mason, played in the film by Maxine Peake, with whom he had fallen in love.
Redmayne did a great job, and it was remarkable how much he looked like the real Stephen Hawking. He clearly deserved his win at the Oscars. But I also thought Jones did a fantastic job. I also really liked Charlie Cox’s portrayal of Jonathan Jones, the family friend who did his best to deny his feelings for Jane, until rumors about an affair that had not yet happened caused him to walk away.
As an interesting side note, I’d also like to make mention of the character of Dennis Sciama, Stephen Hawking’s doctoral supervisor, played by David Thewlis. Apparently, physicist Alan Melott, one of Sciama’s former students, strongly criticized Thewlis’s portrayal of Professor Sciama. While I do not have access to the full article that explains why, I was able to read some of what Melott wrote. He basically objected to the fact the movie minimized his character, saying, “Dennis was much more than that portrayal suggests: he was a superb mentor who brought out the best from his students.” Ok, settle down, Melott. It is clear that you have great respect for the man, but the movie wasn’t about Dennis Sciama.
All in all, it was a good movie, and though I’m glad I watched it, it’s not one I’ll be rushing out to see again any time soon. There were some incredibly good performances and an interesting romance of sorts, but the drama wasn’t terribly deep, and the romance wasn’t overly poignant. Still, it was pleasant enough and had an almost feel-good ending, despite the overall slightly slow pace.