Chief Science Correspondent
The Theory of Everything is a refreshingly honest portrayal of the life of renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). This was a film that could have easily been tarnished by mediocre acting or an overly-idealized Hollywood-stye romance. However, the evident care and dedication invested in this film lays the foundation for a legacy that will transcend the laws of time.
I originally had doubts about this film when the first trailer was released last summer. Early promotions for the film featured the carefree beginnings of Hawking's relationship with his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones) and her determination to support Hawking unconditionally through his medical and personal struggles. I was concerned that the film might ignore the fact that Hawking divorced Jane after both had fallen in love with other people. However, this aspect of Hawking's life was not only incorporated into the story, but crafted in a way that I believe showcased the challenges of Hawking's situation and, perhaps more importantly, his humanity.
In the film, Hawking seeks to construct an equation that explains the origins (or lack thereof) of the universe to understand the meaning of time - a "theory of everything." I was impressed by the manner in which director James Marsh intertwined Hawking's scientific pursuits into his more personal life story, particularly his relationship with Jane and his three children.
Hawking is a man who seeks to understand the nature of time; yet, ironically, time is his worst enemy. Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at a young age and doctors estimated that he only had two years to live. Despite his determination to fight the disease, Hawking knows that his condition will only worsen with time, destroying his control over his body but leaving his mind intact.
To embark on his pursuit of physics of time, Hawking had to defeat the encroachment of time itself.
Jones was an excellent choice for Hawking's wife. Her character was extremely dynamic, developing from a young, spirited girl to a mature and often tired middle-aged wife and mother. Portraying a character throughout several decades can be very challenging, and often results in an effect that is not entirely believable (i.e. the "young" version of the character appears far too mature for the part, or vice versa). However, Jones played (and looked) the part perfectly. One thing that struck me about Jane was her loyalty to Hawking, even when it was clear that there were times that she found her situation disheartening and frustrating. She sacrificed her life and her dreams to support her husband, and I believe Jones does this woman justice.
If anyone could match Jones' performance, it is undoubtedly Redmayne. Between his demeanor, physical movements and appearance, Redmayne was the perfect fit for Stephen Hawking. Playing the part of a man who is both alive and globally famous can be challenging, but I nearly believed that Redmayne actually was a young Stephen Hawking. So did the real Stephen Hawking, apparently.
As someone with a limited background regarding Hawking's disease, I am not at liberty to assess whether Redmayne actually accurately depicted the physical conditions of a person with the condition. However, in an interview with BBC Radio 4, Sarah Ezekial (who also lives with motor neuron disease) vouched for the film's accuracy in portraying the physical and mental effects that Hawking suffered.
"I never thought that an actor could replicate what MND does to the body, but he did it perfectly," Ezekial said.
The film does not attempt to pretend that the Hawkings' marriage was perfect. Both Jane and Hawking become frustrated and tired, not only at their situation but also at each other. I believe this film helps illuminate why their marriage did not last. Yes, infidelity played a role - but the heart of the issue went deeper than that. Hawking reveals that his deep love for Jane - which becomes most evident towards the end of the film - could not withstand the plague of time from which he suffered.
The Theory of Everything was crafted in a spirit that feels raw and genuine - something that modern movies often lack. To be honest, it would most likely be impossible to make a film that captured the entire complexity of Hawking's personal and intellectual biography. But in just over two hours, Marsh offers an honest glimpse of Hawking's remarkable story.
With 2014 officially drawn to a close, I can safely say that The Theory of Everything was one of the best films of the year. If you have the chance to see this movie while it's still in theatres, I highly recommend it.