“In the end, however, The Theory of Everything is thoroughly pleasant, and demands your money solely to see Redmayne deliver arguably the most physically exhausting performance of the year.”
It seems that for everything The Theory of Everything does well, it does something either indifferent or unfortunate, preventing itself from achieving greatness. While the film has a sweet focus on human relationships and emotions, it negates such by not exploiting them as intimately as they could be portrayed. In addition, the film doesn’t try to examine the entire life of renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, including every one of his many accomplishes in a shortchanged fashion, yet the chunks it chooses to explore are done with a mildly frustrating predictable quality that makes them too easy to digest and forget. Yet, even with this present counteractivity, the sole feature that drives the film into recommendation territory is the performance of Eddie Redmayne, who’s name you haven’t heard enough even if you worked on set with him for this particular film.
Redmayne is an arresting force in The Theory of Everything, butting heads with Michael Keaton in Birdman for my favorite male performance of 2014. For the first twenty-five minutes of the film, he clearly becomes immersed with Hawking’s character, occupying a swagger that just shows he’s intelligent and confident in his ways, but not outright boisterous. He downplays such behavior for a more relaxed, gentle approach to his intelligence, waiting to be provoked in just the right way so he can show you how much he knows. Following Hawking’s diagnosis of the motor-neuron disease ALS, Redmayne transcends all preconceived judgments by showing how he can completely transform himself physically and make for not only a daring and exhausting performance but one that is breathlessly convincing. Not only does Redmayne have to contort his posture and muscles to undoubtedly uncomfortable positions, he also needs to speak slowly, stretching out every word and syllable to portray Hawking in an unbelievably convincing manner.
The film concerns Stephen Hawking’s early days in school, where he studied at Cambridge in the 1960’s, deeply invested in the world of theoretical physics and the theory of the universe. Not long after he began his studies, he met Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), who provoked him in just the right way to get him to shed his skin and reveal his brilliance and his compassion. The two held dear a very natural, romantic chemistry, and maintained it even after Hawking was tragically diagnosed with ALS and given an estimated two years to live. A soul-crushing scene comes after the doctor reveals this information and leaves Hawking in a lonely, empty hallway, where the silence is so thick you could hear a pin fall to the ground. Now what?
Director James Marsh and writer/producer Anthony McCarten choose to focus on the devoted care Jane provided for Hawking in his time of need, feeding him, attending to his needs, and investing all her energy into a man who was, for lack of a better term, a presumed time-bomb. ALS is such a tragic disease because it’s as if the human body is wasting away, with muscle deterioration becoming so severe that it cripples you to the point where swallowing and breathing are the most difficult tasks of your day. The film shows how Jane selflessly put her work and her studies on the line to make sure the genius of Hawking could flourish, even with the setback of a vicious disease.
The Theory of Everything will likely please audiences with just how sweet it manages to be, showing a seriously beautiful relationship between two people portrayed by two young and convincing actors. However, the film encompassing these performances often fails to live up to their talents, with a lot of McCarten’s writing feeling like it lives up to the biopic formula. The film doesn’t misstep so bad it cripples or smothers any of its strengths entirely, but the presence of indifference with the film’s approach and direction always exists, to the point where you feel a perfunctory quality in most of the characters’ actions.
Despite the human focus McCarten takes with these characters, not enough revealing or investing conversations between Stephen and Jane take place, which is a real issue when it comes to trying to learn these characters’ ideas and love for one another. In addition to the need for more intimate discussions, the predictability in The Theory of Everything even finds ways to simplify Hawking’s exhaustive research to compile his book with the crippling repercussions from ALS. The film needed more conversational intimacy and a lot more realism in the struggle of how Hawking managed to publish and conclude his studies with untold setbacks instead of glossing over them.
My last counterpoint could be dismissed by my earlier statement of the film being pretty concentrated in what it wants to accomplish, which is Stephen’s relationship with Jane and how she assisted him in his time of need. While this benefits the biopic with a clear thesis, frustration exists in the oversimplification in other areas that needed just a bit more clarity and elaboration. In the end, however, The Theory of Everything is thoroughly pleasant, and demands your money solely to see Redmayne deliver arguably the most physically exhausting performance of the year. No issue with the film can distract that and nothing cripples the film so bad that a watch isn’t warranted.