There are only two biopics that have been about Stephen Hawking—one of the biggest figures in scientific history and the most famous scientist in the world. The first was back in 2004 where he was played by Benedict Cumberbatch for a TV movie, and now, ten years later, we have The Theory of Everything. Where the former, simply titled Hawking, focused on just the early days of Hawking’s career and dealings with motor neuron disease, the latter follows Hawking and his wife, Jane, over several decades. The result is a powerful, often heartbreaking, yet nonetheless hopeful movie about love and the hope that life gives, but it also tends to aim too high for the stars at times.
We start the film in 1963 where Stephen is working on his PhD. The symptoms of his disease are already apparent; we can see it in his walk, the way he holds things. He meets Jane, and awkwardness aside, they strike up a lovely relationship. Stephen is shy, yet oddly charming. Jane is beautiful and timid. When he finds out he has motor neuron disease he attempts to push her away because he is predicted only two more years of life. She resists, the two get married, and we are whisked away into the future.
This movie, not propelled by the story, is rocketed forward by its performances. Eddie Redmayne, who is surely going to get an Oscar nomination, brings life and hope to a person we have only seen portrayed once before. There are such things as a career-defining performance, and this may just be one of those. His deterioration is painful and hard. It is hard for Jane, it is hard for him, and it is hard for us. Yet there are moments where Stephen’s shining light comes through and he pushes past the pain and hardships. He cracks jokes and is often quite funny. The disease is not in control of him because even though he can’t control his limbs, he can control his mind. The amount of dedication put into his role is astounding. He brings the early years of Stephen Hawking to life with such lucidity that we feel as though we might actually be watching a documentary.
Felicity Jones, who plays Jane, is utterly delightful at the beginning. She is that type of person you want to meet and be with. She is caring and loving. As the years go by and Stephen gets worse, she has to go with the blows and try to maintain the promise of love she gave him. She sacrifices everything for him despite having the opportunity to get away. Jones, also a shoe-in for a nomination, brings the compassion and loving we expect but also the conflicted and sometimes bitter resentment of the life she lives. Her character could be considered more painful than even Hawking because of the life she has chosen to live, and Jones delivers a powerful performance where we both pity and support her.
The story, though, suffers at times when it seems like it cannot decide its focus. Aside from focusing on their relationship, we also see the deterioration of Hawking, his attempts to make a breakthrough in astrophysics, and several over moments that might be considered as spoilers. For a title that evokes a sense of grand scope, it never can pinpoint one emotional core of the film to focus on. The film is advertised as the story their marriage, so the other threads feel like an attempt to add material about what Hawking actually did but it never goes into a huge amount of detail about what a huge impact he had in his realm of studies.
The supporting cast is substantial as well, but it often feels overpowered by the magnificent leads. David Thewlis, Charlie Cox, and Maxine Peake all do great jobs in their roles, but they cannot quite stand up to Jones and Redmayne. Beneath all of the powerful performances are a wonderful score and beautiful cinematography. Time is ever-apparent on screen and we get many ways in which the camera manipulates time which leaves us dazzled and full of emotion.
In the end, The Theory of Everything is all about the performances—it has some of the best you will see all year. It is a film about love, time, and the bonds that last throughout the years. It is about the power of the human mind—and heart—despite harsh adversity. The actors are so spellbinding in their roles that even the issues with the story hardly detract from the powerful message the film has to send. So, if you have a love for science, romance, or Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything will leave you dazzled and inspired.