By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Every once in a while, there will be a biopic that tugs at the heartstrings. The Theory of Everything shows how Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) gets drawn into Stephen Hawking’s (Eddie Redmayne) world and it’s not necessarily bleak. This film highlights his years as a grad student a few months before the crippling Lou Gehrig’s disease would slowly devastate his body.
Time is the cruel beast here, and to see how these two fight against the odds is at the core of this movie than to unravel the answers as to how the universe works that Hawking is attempting to find. That also includes looking into just how truly supportive Wilde was to her husband.
In due time, the two separated; anyone following Hawking’s life will know this. This film serves to highlight more of the best of times than the worst of times of Stephen and Jane’s marriage. The performances by Redmayne will no doubt earn him an Oscar nod, and for Jones, perhaps a tear of affection in showing just how restrained Wilde became during her time with him. There’s something that wants to burst open from her but honour comes before duty and affairs of the heart.
In some ways, it echoes some of the best literature that emerged from out of Great Britain. It’s almost like writer Anthony McCarten took a few pages out of King Arthur, especially when it concerns what marrying Guinevere meant — and allowing infidelity to lurk in the shadows. Choirmaster Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox) stole both their hearts in different ways. But to be a family man or to serve a higher purpose was Hawking’s greatest challenge. He resolved to find a solution to time. That is, to find an elegant equation that would explain how the universe worked, especially in the nature of what function a black hole serves.
As his mentor Dennis Sciama (gently played by David Thewlis) explained: the challenge is to find the mathematics to support his theories. Viewers expecting to get a bit of insight or understanding to Hawking’s ideas will be in for a let down. A few minutes are spent here and there explaining a few concepts in layman’s terms, but none of that is important. People wanting to learn more about his theories are better off looking at Ch4’s Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe. His younger life is explored in Hawking (2013).
This film is less about the science and more about sociology. The details of Hawking’s younger life is irrelevant, and the focus on how he loved Wilde and their children are at this film’s heart. This story is well crafted. Nearly everything is interpreted from Wilde’s point of view from her updated biography, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.” If comparisons had to be made from her previous version, “Music to Move the Stars:. A Life with Stephen,” that’s because Jane probably used it as a vehicle for her own self rehabilitation. Feelings were frayed in the years when Wilde gave up much of her life to take care of her ailing husband.
The film nicely chooses to look at the positive aspects of what came from these two star-crossed lover’s time together. For Stephen, he found strength to carry on, and it shows in Redmayne’s performance. His smile is just as infectiously resilient as with the real life Hawking back in the days. The movie sweetly shows that through his marriage he found motivation to carry on. Even the humour in many scenes is subtly played up and that trait can still be found in the real life Hawking’s lectures. As a celebrity, the challenges are looked at within the film, and that sadly helped contribute to the dissolution of Stephen and Jane’s marriage.
Although this film spends some time in showing that this couple had happy times raising their children, one later act felt curiously lacking. They literally dropped off the planet — like they are unimportant for part of his life — but yet resurface. In theory, they went to boarding school for a good part of the year, but no word is ever said. Even his travels abroad is marginalized when considering the film reveals Jane dislikes flying. Most of the story takes place during his formative years at Cambridge even though its widely known that he spent at a year at Caltech and frequented the school as often as he could, health permitting.
Even though parts of the plotting are spotty, they do not detract too much from the nearly 30 years Stephen and Jane spent together. This film is simply a feel good film to tell audiences that no individual should ever give up hope no matter what the circumstance. Through his determination, he proved that no ailment can stop him from solving a few of this universe’s greatest mysteries. Quite simply, upon looking at the future, the best line of this film is hearing him say, “Look at what we created.”
4 Stars out of 5