The Hippo


May 28, 2020








The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

The Theory of Everything (PG-13)

Meet physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, a movie that seems to think it’s the life-affirming tale of Hawking’s work and personal life but ends up feeling way more downbeat.
Spoiler alert. I guess. These are real people — the Titanic sinks, and all that. 
As a young man at Cambridge, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) can’t quite decide what his academic focus will be. He half-heartedly pursues a doctorate in cosmology but isn’t inspired or particularly dedicated to his work. He does quickly become dedicated to Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), a literature-and-arts-type student, who is herself enchanted with this somewhat dorky young scientist. As his romance heats up with Jane, Stephen also finds some professional inspiration and begins work on time — specifically, explaining the beginnings of the universe. 
Just as both his love life and his student life seem to be going well, Stephen begins to feel, in earnest, the effects of his motor neuron disease (Lou Gehrig’s disease, as it’s explained in the movie). Told that he only has a few years to live, Stephen eventually decides to pursue his work and Jane. They marry and start a family and Stephen finds success and even some international acclaim for his work. But life for Stephen and Jane isn’t easy. Because he doesn’t want to be anything other than a normal family — and because they can’t afford it anyway — Stephen doesn’t want any help in the household. So Jane is left running the house, taking care of the family of, eventually, three kids and completing her own studies while Stephen continues to deteriorate physically. 
Eventually, loneliness and a need for some creative outlet pushes Jane to join a church choir, where the young, widowed choir director Jonathan (Charlie Cox) befriends her and eventually the whole Hawking family. Though all are well-intentioned, Jane struggles to keep her relationship with Jonathan platonic. Later, when Stephen finally does need caregivers, a woman named Elaine (Maxine Peake) strikes up a friendship that begins to separate Jane and Stephen even more. 
Like a lot of people, I at some point have owned a copy of A Brief History of Time and, as with a lot of people, I’m pretty sure the book never moved beyond the “mean to read this someday” pile. My knowledge of Hawking before seeing this movie was equally scant — “he’s that guy on that book who is famous for physics and using a robot voice” would probably have been more or less the extent of my understanding about him. After seeing this movie, add to that “and had a difficult marriage” because that is really the only thing I learned about Hawking from The Theory of Everything. A Beautiful Mind, the biopic of John Nash that came to mind while I watched this, explains game theory and gives a glimpse of how it feels to be unable to tell delusion from reality. But The Theory of Everything greatly limits its attempts to explain Hawking’s ideas — perhaps for good reason; I couldn’t even finish the Wikipedia page entry about A Brief History of Time — but by not giving us a sense of the ideas Hawking was presenting, the movie doesn’t really allow us to understand Hawking’s genius or his place in the scientific realm. We simply have to take “he is a genius, he is important” on faith. And sure, I believe that he is an important genius, but I never felt it, I could never appreciate how important or how genius. 
Nor did the movie really give much insight into what Hawking’s illness has been like from his perspective or into his personality in general. While a few scenes here and there offer some sense of Hawking’s inner struggle, I don’t feel like I have any better sense of what it is to be him than I had before. I also found myself thinking of 2007’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — a movie about a French magazine editor who was completely paralyzed except for one eye. I got a sense in that movie of how hellish that would be. Redmayne’s character here remains all surface — we see Hawking but we don’t really see through Hawking’s eyes.
Perhaps because the movie comes from Jane Hawking’s book, her point of view remains the one that feels most central to the story. We see her fall in love, we see her face the difficulties of taking care of three children alone, we see her struggle with romantic attachment outside her marriage, we see her give it up and we see her lose Stephen to Elaine. Her ending, as far as the movie is concerned, is a happy one but because her story is the only one with emotional resonance, it makes the movie overall feel like, well, a massive bummer. A massive bummer where I didn’t really learn anything about Stephen Hawking and his ideas. Redmayne’s performance, for all its interesting moments, never really connected with me the way you need the focus of a biopic to connect — his Hawking remains a distant star. B-
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material. Directed by James Marsh with a screenplay by Anthony McCarten from the book by Jane Hawking, The Theory of Everything is two hours and three minutes long and is distributed by Focus Features.

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