I imagine one of the most difficult challenges for a writer and filmmaker must be finding a way to make a story interesting when everyone already knows the ending. In The Theory of Everything, we know that Stephen Hawking doesn’t die after two years. We know that he ends up becoming a highly-respected theoretical physicist. Even those not in tune with his work know how he ultimately ends up communicating. Yet writer Anthony McCarten still found a way to keep his adaptation interesting, and that alone is enough to make this a remarkable film.
The story starts with Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) studying for his PhD. Almost instantly he locks eyes with Jane (Felicity Jones) at a party, and the two hit it off, talking long into the night. They begin to date, but as the relationship grows, Stephen’s body weakens, before he’s eventually diagnosed with ALS and given two years to live. Jane insists on staying with him though, and the two get married, have kids, and live together as Stephen continues his research. Suddenly, far more than two years have passed, Stephen is a internationally respected theorist, and the two are faced with dealing with the problems that come from multiple kids and a marriage where one member can’t physically take care of himself.
In terms of the story, there are some gaps that detract from the overall quality. I get that it’s a movie focused on the relationships and his disability, but too often his scientific achievements are glossed over. Multiple times it’s portrayed as: he has a theory, oh wow! He’s a great scientist. When he writes A Brief History Of Time, it’s shown in the movie as him wanting to write a book and voila! It’s a best seller. Writing a book with his handicap is impressive, but the book (and his work) isn’t remembered because a person with ALS wrote it. It’s remembered because of the scientific theory and support that it presents.
There are also definitely some things that are handled in a more delicate way than they would’ve been had this movie been made in 100 years. Whenever you’re making a movie about people who are alive, that’s going to affect what parts of the story are focused on. Those things are amplified even more when the screenplay is based on a book by one of the main people involved. For example, Director James Marsh said he wanted to show how someone with ALS would have sex, but Jane didn’t want him to, so he didn’t. It’s admirable that he respected her wishes, but the film certainly isn’t better for it. And that’s just one minor example of many things that could have been better if this was a movie made without the thought that the people depicted on screen would be watching it.
Redmayne will be nominated for Best Actor, and barring something unforseen, will likely win. Deservedly so. And he deserves it on a level beyond just your every year nomination of someone playing someone who is handicapped. He became Hawking, but he also become a memorable character in his own right, finding ways to portray various emotions that haven’t been done before, at least not quite like that. As his character falls further and further from being able to physically function, it’s easily forgotten that Redmayne is merely an actor contorting himself. It’s a impressive performance, and by far the highlight of the film.
The ticket taker at the screening I was at referred to the film as “The Instagram Movie.” She wasn’t exaggerating. Every shot is beautifully composed and set perfectly, though at times the stylistic filters become a bit too much, almost detracting from what is happening on the screen. Still, it’s safe to assume Benoît Delhomme will be recognized, at the very least in the form of a nomination, for his cinematography come March.
Aside from the minor weaknesses in the story, this is still a really enjoyable movie. It’s got a pair of excellent performances at the lead, including one of the best we’ve seen in years. And it’s visually breathtaking from the start to the finish. The Theory Of Everything is one of the better biopics we’ve seen in recent years.
Want more from NerdGlow?