The Theory of Everything English Movie Review

Feature Film | Biopic, Drama, Romance
The film boasts of skillful direction by James Marsh and an applause-worthy performance by star Eddie Redmayne, which is more than enough to keep you hooked throughout the film.
Jan 15, 2015 By Piyush Chopra

There has been a sudden influx of biographical dramas these past few years. Biopics today are like Tom Hanks - who doesn't love them? Audiences love them, critics love them, and they make good money more often than not. But while making a biopic, a filmmaker has to walk a thin rope. Neither can he border on hero worship, nor can he afford to understate the subject's achievements. A perfect balance has to be found, a task easier said than done.

This week's The Theory Of Everything has Stephen Hawking as its subject. The film is adapted from Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, written by his wife Jane Hawking. But instead of your typical biographical drama chronicling a person's extraordinary achievements, the film instead provides you an intimate look into the private life of The Hawkings.

The film starts off from the first time that Stephen meets Jane, two students who have a chance encounter at a college party. They debate the existence of God, phone numbers are exchanged and a whirlwind romance begins. But soon, Stephen finds out that he has a disease that'll make him lose all motor functions and muscle movement with time, and doctors give him just 2 years more to live. Despite the odds facing them, Jane never gives up on their love and the two get married.

The love story is cut-into by a scientific discovery/theory by Hawking every now and then, but the main focus of the film remains on the progression of Stephen's disease, Jane's unwavering commitment to him and the life that they lead together. The film explores how their beliefs are tested and how their love holds up over exactly what Stephen based his first thesis on: time.

The advantage of concentrating so narrowly on their personal lives is that the film never really gets into the hero worship zone, like we saw with Angelina Jolie's Unbroken a few weeks ago. Director James Marsh instead chooses to portray Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds in the history of the world as just another ordinary human being unfortunate enough to be afflicted by the disease. He humanizes the man, and tells his story in a most simple and intimate manner.

On the downside of this very approach, the fact that he chooses to not focus on his scientific achievements removes the awe factor from his life. Hawking is an inspirational figure across the world because of his achievements despite his personal hardships. When people in the film say that they feel blessed to meet him, you cannot possibly agree with them because you haven't been told of his success in the scientific field except in the most vague manner.

Even if you're left feeling that you've got to know only one side of the man, there's still enough drama and layers to the characters to leave you highly fulfilled. The first half of the film pretty much breezes by, setting up the characters, the situations and the drama wonderfully. The establishment of the different shades to Hawking is done masterfully, especially when it came to his dilemma of physical cosmology vs existence of God.

The second half turns to tell the story from Jane's perspective. Being the wife of a paralyzed genius isn't as much of a joy as the outside world would imagine, and the realization dawns upon her that she can no longer do this alone. It's in these portions that the film begins to lag a bit. While you certainly empathize with Jane and her frustration, having sacrificed her entire life for her husband's, you cannot escape the feeling of having seen similar situations in other films previously.

What's impressive, though, is that at no point does director Marsh or the writer Anthony McCarten try to gain the sympathy of the audience by emotionally manipulating them, something that is a permanent fixture in similar stories of the triumph of human spirit. In fact, they portray their leads as well-rounded beings with their own moments of weakness. Marsh does an especially great job, interspersing the tearful drama with a few light-headed moments. He takes the facts that are in evidence, and he weaves together a film that is engrossing for the majority of its running length.

Even in its weaker moments, the film manages to stand tall on the shoulders of its strong leads. The dawn of the rookies has been upon us for some time, and Eddie Redmayne continues the trend with his portrayal of Stephen Hawking. It's one thing to vaguely act like a person and a completely different thing to actually become one. Redmayne is so skillful as Hawking that you couldn't possibly tell that he isn't actually wheelchair-bound. The physicality of the role itself is an impossible achievement, but every single aspect of it, from the posture to the movement of the fingers to the manner of speaking to that incredibly innocent yet mischievous smile, Redmayne nails down everything to perfection. For the most part of the film, he has to convey his character's myriad of emotions only through his face, but the actor doesn't skip a beat. Every single micro-expression on his tortured face is him one step closer to nabbing this year's Best Actor trophy at the Academy Awards.

Felicity Jones is equally adroit as Jane Hawking, following Redmayne's lead in most sequences. She conveys the loneliness, dissatisfaction and the urge to stray that her character feels in her life with utmost expressiveness. Not only does she look elegantly beautiful, but when the opportunity presents itself for her to shine in the second half, she grabs it by both hands and impresses you with a pitch-perfect performance. Rest of the cast members provide able support.

The film starts off well, only to lose some steam in the second half. But there's hardly any damage done, with James Marsh's accomplished direction righting the ship. Marsh and writer McCarten also find the most ideal ending you could possibly imagine, rewinding the clock to the first time that the duo first met at the party, mirroring Stephen's wish to reverse time to the beginning of the world. Add to that, Redmayne's faultless and applause-worthy portrayal of Stephen Hawking is something you're not likely to forget any time soon. If that's not enough to make you leave the theater impressed, I don't know what is.

Piyush Chopra