The Theory Of Everything (film review by Frank Ochieng)

Filmmaker James Marsh’s ‘The Theory Of Everything’ is an examination of a flawed, brilliant man and his gifted mind for scientific intellectualism. Of course, the subject of Marsh’s intimate, smart and perceptive biopic is renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and the piercing look at his triumphant and turbulent times both professionally and personally. A great deal of Stephen Hawking’s biographical accounts is anchored on the recollection of his ex-wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones), the provider of the storytelling that highlights their first romantic meeting, marriage, parenting and the meteoric rise of Stephen’s academic career and his theoretical physics stances.

Naturally, ‘The Theory Of Everything’ emphasises the medical atrocities for one of the world’s greatest living minds as audiences are shocked by theory-202x300the revelations of his inflicted disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the motor neurone disease Hawking developed at the tender age of 21. Convincingly moving, literate, perceptive and gloriously executed, ‘The Theory Of Everything’ is a resounding character study of academic excellence and professional prominence in the face of both earth-shattering achievement and personalised adversity.

Marsh’s (‘Man On A Wire’, ‘Shadow Dancer’) ‘The Theory Of Everything’ is inspired by Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir ‘Traveling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen’. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten delivers a low-key yet penetrating profile of a mastermind scientist whose debilitating physical limitations did not prevent him from exploring his scientific and philosophical studies with the world as his devoted woman stood by his side and practically felt as creative, restricted and frustrated as her famous husband. Jane Wilde Hawking would ultimately invest three decades of marital existence with Stephen starting with their 1965 marriage ceremony until their 1995 divorce after raising three children together.

The film introduces us to the 1963 schooling of a young Stephen Hawking, a then-healthy and functioning Cambridge student with impressive credentials as a doctoral candidate. We observe Stephen both in the classroom under the instruction of his encouraging adviser and professor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) as well as his leisurely time with fellow student and roommate (Harry Lloyd). However, it would be at the college’s dance that an awkward yet smitten Stephen would notice medieval Spanish poetry student Jane Wilde and love would soon blossom between the tandem. All is well and good until the tragic unthinkable occurred…the ALS symptoms attacked Stephen’s unsuspecting body rendering him at his most vulnerable.

"Hello my to dance with an informative astrophysicist with boundless insight?"
“Hello my dear…care to dance with an informative astrophysicist with boundless insight?”

Understandably, Stephen is angry at the world and his medical malaise would serve as a drawback to his refusal to assume caring about anything else at this point. Stunningly, he is told that he has approximately two years to live. The dejected confirmed atheist would be challenged by his Christian-believing sweetheart to snap out of his funk and start taking care of business in being active otherwise he would lose her in the process. The strong-willed Jane got her way in how she motivated the almost defeated Stephen to resume with his doctoral candidacy. Soon, the loving couple would marry despite some obvious reservations from Jane’s parents, Beryl and George (Emily Watson and Guy Oliver-Watts). A promising domestic life would transform Stephen into a hopeful family man and well-known scholar in the demanding field of quantum physics globally. Sadly, Stephen’s physicality concerns worsened but Jane was there to serve as his dutiful caretaker while juggling the responsibilities of a busy young mother and wife. The toll was simply too much but she stood at Stephen’s side in public glory and private pain.

The 1970s would prove to be a turning point in the Hawkings’ marriage. Feeling overwhelmed and somewhat burdened Jane enlists and befriends handsome church minister Jonathan Jones (Chalie Cox), a widower with his own lingering grief. Jonathan is supportive to Jane around the household and helps out increasingly with handling Stephen (whom he actually befriends as well) and the kids. But the inevitable happens as both Jane and Jonathan admit their attraction and romantic feelings for one another amid the gossip that the twosome are more than just acquaintances. In the meanwhile, a dependent Stephen gradually falls for his ridiculously attractive personal nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). Alas, the once closeness and love-struck vibes that Stephen and Jane reserved for each other has now drifted to the direction of other love interests. Both Jonathan and Elaine would become second spouses to the divorcing Hawkings.

Some may be misled by this particular Stephen Hawking biopic as being a main blueprint for all his established ground-breaking cosmological theories and formulas. However, the surprising black hole theory worth visiting in ‘The Theory Of Everything’ is in fact the methodical breakdown of a tested love that has seen more bounce than a rubber-made meteorite in a science musuem’s gift shop. Marsh’s elegant and spry narrative may be criticised for posing as usual Oscar bait but hey…why not? The standout performances by leads Redmayne and Jones are touchingly wrenching as a married couple embroiled in the ups and downs of academic notoriety, medical confinement and a fading love that still invited elements of mutual respect and admiration. At times, there is a sense of confusion with the timeline of the events that bombard the Hawkings’ livelihoods and the film’s ending feels rather emotionally manipulative. Still, Marsh conjures up a soul-searching exposition that balances the anatomy of a marriage as anchored by the disturbing physical deterioration of Redmayne’s Stephen and the quiet strength and devotion of Jones’s Jane.

In many ways comparable to the Ron Howard-directed ‘A Beautiful Mind’, the introspective ‘The Theory Of Everything’ is a marvelous calculation of time and space that even the real-life Stephen Hawking can embrace with conviction.

The Theory of Everything (2014)
Focus Features
2 hrs. 3 mins.
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney and Guy Oliver-Watts
Directed by: James Marsh
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Critic’s Rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng 2014




Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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