The Theory of Everything (2014)

Posted: April 9, 2015 in Movie Review
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The Theory of Everything (2014)

Director: James Marsh

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis

Having watched this movie a few days ago, I put off writing this review when I came up with the following question: How does one talk about one of the greatest minds of ours and any other period in history and manage to do him the proper justice? Then, of course, I remembered that “The Theory of Everything” does exactly that. How it accomplishes this task makes it all the more exceptional, as I can’t recall ever seeing a movie where its lead actor disappears so completely into his role. Never once do we look at this guy and think, “Wow! Eddie Redmayne is amazing as Stephen Hawking!” No, for the two hours+ of “The Theory of Everything,” the man we see on the screen may as well be the real Stephen Hawking.

In 1963, Stephen Hawking is a 21-year old astrophysicist student at Cambridge University. He’s working on formulating a thesis topic, which would eventually become time, centering around the idea that black holes helped form the universe. At this time, Stephen notices that his muscles are beginning to fail him, beginning with an everyday act of clumsiness such as spilling a hot drink, but building up into something more serious when his legs give out and he falls, hitting his head on the school grounds. At the hospital, Stephen is informed he has motor neuron disease (a.k.a. ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Typical life expectancy for this type of debilitating illness is a mere two years. Hardly seems enough time for his budding romance with literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones)… except that there is nothing “typical” about Stephen Hawking.

Stephen does not take his diagnosis well (Who the hell would?!), and becomes reclusive. Only Jane is able to bring him out into the world again. Still, even as she proclaims her love for him, Stephen’s father Frank (Simon McBurney) warns her of what to expect. The two marry and have their first child, a son, after which Stephen’s thesis on time is met with a majority of approving voices from the examination board. Celebrating this victory, Stephen is met with another setback, losing the ability to walk. Later, Stephen is a wheelchair-bound father of two, having produced a daughter with Jane, By now, he’s known the world over for his continued/updated theories on black holes.

The stress of both Stephen’s fame and his declining health are becoming too much for Jane to bear. Being a member of the Church of England, in stark contrast to Stephen’s own atheistic views, her husband suggests that she join the church choir. There, she meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), whom she will later come to employ as a piano teacher for her son. But there’s more going on between the two, and it was something that actually had me yelling at my television. It seemed as though she were flirting with the idea of having an affair with Jonathan… and she was… but her devotion to Stephen prevented her from acting on it. Unfortunately, it is this playfulness that draws the attention of Jane’s mother (Emily Watson), who audibly speculates as to who the father of Jane’s third child is. Jane is insulted, especially once it’s clear that Jonathan has heard every word of their conversation. He leaves, but not before both have admitted they really do have feelings for one another, though is convinced by Stephen (of all people) to return once it’s made clear that his presence has had a positive influence.

Things between Jane and Jonathan are put on hold seemingly for good after Stephen comes down with pneumonia while attending a concert in Bordeaux. Jane and Jonathan had been camping with the children as per Stephen’s suggestion when the news came. Jane agrees to have the doctors perform a tracheotomy on Stephen, which will rob him of what remains of his voice but ultimately saves his life. Jane hires a nurse for Stephen, who finds himself falling in love with Elaine. Fitted with a new computer and voice synthesizer, Stephen writes his book, “A Brief History of Time.” Stephen explains his plan to take Elaine with him to America, where he’ll be accepting an award. This news is hard for him to break, but harder for Jane to hear, as she has stood by him for many of his hardest years. Still this scene did make it easier for me to accept her flirtations with Jonathan, since Stephen ultimately does the same thing to her. That, and it frees her up to marry Jonathan, which she does. The film ends with Stephen inviting Jane to visit Queen Elizabeth II with him. Rumor has it that the Queen intends to offer him a knighthood, which he has no plans to accept. Even though their paths have set them apart, the two marvel at their three grown children, collectively their proudest achievement.

Despite not being a world-renowned physicist, I still find much to relate to in Stephen Hawking’s life story. I’m fairly certain that I have touched on this in part in a previous film review, but I too was stricken with a medical condition, this one called hydrocephalus. Far easier to treat than ALS, but not without its own drawbacks. I’ve had a shunt installed in my head since the age of six weeks which allows for the normal flow of my cerebrospinal fluid. It wasn’t until the age of 17, when the tube connected to my shunt broke (requiring another surgery) that I knew what having hydrocephalus feels like. Imagine the worst headache you’ve ever had, and multiply that x1000. Seriously. Also, think of it like an automobile with shock absorbers that have failed completely. Every step you take, you feel it inside your head. Not pleasant.

One distinct difference between my disability and the one affecting Stephen Hawking… aside from the fact that I still have the taken-for-granted abilities to walk and talk… is that, while ALS involves the death of neurons, the cure for my disorder… the shunt… causes the occasional misfiring of neurons, resulting in seizures. Additionally, as I learned the hard way in September/October 2014, the anti-seizure medications I take can result in loss of balance if I’ve been inadvertently taking too much of it. It’s that last part which gives the early scene in which Hawking falls on his face a certain “too soon” quality. Very effective.

Long story short, I knew I would be interested in “The Theory of Everything” just based on how interesting a character Stephen Hawing is, both as a genius and as a genuine smart ass. You need to have a sense of humor to get you through the hardest of times! In particular, I enjoyed his in-joke references to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Doctor Who.” What I didn’t know going in was how much I could relate to him on a personal level, including the critical part his friends and family have played in his life. I was also unprepared for one of the more amazing individual performances in recent memory from actor Eddie Redmayne, who both so perfectly captures the essence of Stephen Hawking and believably replicates the effects of ALS. The Academy doesn’t always get it right come Oscar time, but there’s no question in my mind that Eddie Redmayne deserved the Best Actor award. Like the Professor himself, Redmayne is brilliant.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Wow!!!! You really did relate to this film. Extra well done, son!!!!!

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