For a man who believed that time had a beginning and an end, I guess it makes sense that his biography should be told in a linear fashion. Playing like Stephen Hawking’s Greatest Hits, “The Theory of Everything” is a blow-by-blow account of his remarkable life, from socially awkward scientist-in-training to husband, father and finally, the wheelchair bound physics superstar.
The story begins in 1963. Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is a student at Cambridge working toward deciding what his life’s study will be. Already an acknowledged genius he takes on time as a subject for his doctorate. As he sets out to prove, with a single equation, that time had a beginning two things happen that change his life forever. He meets Jane (Felicity Jones), a pretty PhD student who would become his wife, mother of his three children and life support system after he is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease related to ALS. “I love you,” she blurts out when she learns he has only been given two years to live. “That’s a false conclusion,” he replies, scientifically.
Doctors dramatically underestimated his life expectancy, but were correct in their diagnosis. His body deteriorates until he is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak, but his thoughts remain as vital as ever. As he developed theories like cosmological inflation Jane was his lifeline, and would remain so until just before the release of his besting book “A Brief History of Time.”
“The Theory of Everything” is not just the story of a great man but also the story of the great woman behind the man. As Jane, Jones portrays the strength, wisdom and occasional frustration it took to be Hawking’s partner. It’s a nicely rendered performance but, in art as in life, it’s Hawking who gets all the notice. Or should I say Redmayne as Hawking who steals the movie.
The actor bears an uncanny resemblance to the physicist but doesn’t just hand in an impersonation. It’s a fully rounded performance that captures the indomitable spirit that has allowed Hawking to survive and thrive, showcasing the man’s intelligence and humor—while courting Jane he tries to work out mathematical probability of happiness. Redmayne, whose charming work in “My Week with Marilyn” was over shone by a show stopping performance by Michelle Williams, takes control of the movie from the first frames and doesn’t let go, even in the latter half when he has no voice and speaks through a computer.
In many ways “The Theory of Everything” is a standard biopic—there’s loads of shots of Hawking furiously scribbling mathematical symbols on a chalkboard for instance—but Jones and Redmayne give this study of a scientific mind something special—heart.