Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything (2014; dir. James Marsh) is a good film, not a great one.  Its virtue is the acting of Eddie Redmayne, who portrays Stephen Hawking.  The title is misleading—the film is not about Hawking’s work as a physicist.  We learn a bit about his work, but not much.  Nor do we learn, or are we given hints, about the roots of Hawking’s genius.  It’s there when we first meet him.

The film clearly suggests that Hawking’s first wife Jane (Felicity Jones) was a primary factor in his success and fame.  It is based on her book about their marriage, and the book like the film doesn’t have much to say about Hawking the scientist, only Hawking the husband.

When they marry, Jane believes Stephen will live at most two years.  He has just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS).  Instead he lives into his 70s (he is alive today), and the focus of her existence becomes increasingly focused on taking care of him and his physical needs, in addition to their three children.  As the disease progresses he loses his ability to walk, is confined to a wheel chair, and ultimately can’t feed himself or even talk without mechanical assistance.  The film makes clear that although Jane loves him this life for her is deadening.  She is attracted to a younger man, Jonathan, a widower and the choir leader for a local church who becomes friends with both Hawking and Jane.  Eventually Hawking in effect gives Jane his approval for her to have a relationship with Jonathan.  He in turn becomes involved with a nurse hired to care for him.

The Theory of Everything is about the arc of a marriage, its beginnings, middle, and end.  The two main characters are wonderfully portrayed--Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking deserved the Academy Award nomination for best actor it received. The film, charming and entertaining, was well made and commonplace.

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