'The Theory of Everything': See the Stephen Hawking biopic for actor Eddie Redmayne

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Theory' itself is wildly uneven, but Felicity Jones, portraying Hawking's first wife Jane Wilde, is terrific and Redmayne's performance as Stephen Hawking is a triumph.

LIAM DANIEL/FOCUS FEATURES
Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) wins the heart of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne).

The great British scientist Stephen Hawking is already such an international icon – he’s even been portrayed on “The Simpsons”! – that for him to be the subject of a movie at this point seems almost reductive. “The Theory of Everything,” starring Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde, his first wife, is highly uneven, but at least it doesn’t glamorize Hawking’s life or turn it into a paean to endurance. His physical degeneration from motor neuron disease, which shut down his muscular control and ultimately rendered him unable to speak on his own, is depicted without undue pathos. 

Diagnosed while studying for his PhD at Cambridge in the mid-1960s, he was given only two years to live. He is now 72. His ideas about space-time and black holes revolutionized modern thinking about the universe. His layman’s science book “A Brief History of Time” is perhaps the most famously unread bestseller ever. 

In the popular imagination, the Hawking iconography is keyed to the image of this slumping, speechless man spinning paradigm-shifting cosmic theories from his wheelchair. There is an element of morbidity in this sort of hero-worship that James Marsh, who directed “The Theory of Everything” from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, generally avoids. (Source material is Jane Hawking’s 2007 memoir, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,” written 12 years after their 20-year marriage ended). If only the film weren’t rendered in that flavorless way endemic to biopics (especially British ones) of the famous. 

Jones is terrific – she has a funny, offhand moment when she rues the way Stephen’s electronic voice simulator makes him sound American – but the chief reason to see the film is for Redmayne. This is the first full-scale nonmusical role he’s been handed in the movies and it ranks almost up there with Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in “My Left Foot,” though that role allowed Day Lewis far greater emotional latitude. Redmayne, like Day Lewis, is often at his most physically charged when he is the most physically confined. The early courtship scenes between Stephen and Jane, full of gawky gallantry, only emphasize Stephen’s loss when the disease hits. And yet the triumph of Redmayne’s performance is that Stephen, after he becomes incapacitated, is the same eccentric, quizzical quester that he was when he was sprinting across the Cambridge campus. He is such a brainiac that his search for a “theory of everything” – a unification of quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity – overrides, triumphantly, his debility.  

The filmmakers, fearing perhaps that we might get snarled up in cosmological conundrums, play down the physics. I wish they hadn’t; they underestimate the audience’s own avidity for scientific voyaging (as demonstrated by the success of such PBS series as “NOVA” and “Cosmos”).    

I also wish the filmmakers didn’t feel the need to provide a counterweight to the cosmology in the form of a running argument between Jane and Stephen about religion. (She’s Anglican; he’s an atheist.) Doesn’t the confluence of his difficult life and hers already provide an ample arena for conflict? “The Theory of Everything” doesn’t need this window dressing. It has Redmayne. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'The Theory of Everything': See the Stephen Hawking biopic for actor Eddie Redmayne
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Movies/2014/1107/The-Theory-of-Everything-See-the-Stephen-Hawking-biopic-for-actor-Eddie-Redmayne
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe