“When there’s life, there is hope.”
Directed by James Marsh, “The Theory of Everything” tells a life story of the world-renowned astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne, “Les Miserables,” “My Week with Marilyn”). More of a love story than intellectual discoveries, it’s told from his first wife’s perspective, Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), based on her memoir, “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.”
Cambridge University, 1963. Stephen Hawking is first introduced as a vibrant young man with a brilliant scientific mind and quirky humor, quickly charming an arts and literature student, Jane Wilde. Not long after they meet and fall in love, Stephen receives a devastating diagnosis, degenerative motor neuron disease (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), with an estimated life expectancy of two years.
It’s chillingly heartbreaking to see Stephen falls and hits the ground hard and Jane witnessing the first signs of his physical deterioration during a croquet game. Even as he pushes her and his friends away, and cautioned by his parents for an uphill battle of a life she could never prepare for, Jane earnestly chooses to stay by his side and marry him regardless.
Then comes the children and domestic life is far more challenging than anyone could ever imagine. As the deadly disease progresses, Stephen is gradually losing his abilities to do routine things; breathing, bathing, eating, drinking, dressing, speaking, writing, sitting, standing, walking. It is painful to watch and serves as a powerful reminder of how much we take everyday living for granted.
His mind, his brilliant mind remains, however. It’s the singular thing that Stephen has control over and continues to put to great use. He finishes his doctorate study, discovers and theorizes, contributes to breakthroughs, speaks at engagements, writes books, gains recognition and rises to fame.
Life eventually does take a toll on Jane as a primary caretaker as her husband’s life stretches for many years. She ends up befriending a church choirmaster and kind widower, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox). Jonathan becomes a close family friend, supportive and integrated to day-to-day struggle of the family’s life. Jane’s relationship with him comes across naturally and is handled with class, as well as glimpses of Hawking’s later connection with his new nurse, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). Through it all, Jane and Stephen’s bond is lifelong. They’re shown as very human and fully realized.
The film is softly shot, hazy and rich in saturated colors, with an authentic feel of sets design and costume of the period. It tugs at your heartstrings with a stunning score, a harmony of piano and violin.
Redmayne will be up for awards for his true-to-life portrayal. He didn’t dramatically lose weight or put on prosthetic makeup, but his transformation from an able body to severely debilitated, functioning through a computerized voice and motorized wheelchair, while still conveying the essence of Stephen Hawking is extraordinary. From struggling to walk, trembling hands, resting of his head, slurring of his speech, to facial tics, including expressive eyes, playful smile and arching eyebrows to communicate and convey his personality. Jones is not to be overshadowed. Jane’s incredible inner strength, quiet determination, endless compassion and loving devotion profoundly shine through.
Filled with much life, love and tears, and sprinkled with laughter, “The Theory of Everything” is a beautiful film.