It might be okay to say that The Theory of Everything is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir even though director James Marsh films a much glamorized and dramatized version—tweaking facts here and there. The book is an extended summary of Jane’s life with the most famous Physicist alive today, Stephen Hawking.
Much before Stephen Hawking became the Hawking; he walked, talked, and moved like every other person. Behind this theorist in physics was a genius youngster budding to know more about the universe, the black hole, and time. Yet, The Theory of Everything isn’t about science and Hawking’s feat as a scientist. It treads on a path few know: his love life, his personal story, and his trials and tribulations as a youngster, later adult, who was supposed to perish years before A Brief History of Time, but he persevered, he moved on, and made a mark on the world.
Meet young Stephen W. Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), an Oxford undergrad student. During these days of exuberance, Hawking meets Arts students, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). They formulate something spectacular together, whilst enjoying the blossoming of love and admiration for one another. Stephen likes Jane, she likes Stephen—a marriage of arts and science, what more could anybody ask for? But the universe had other plans for Stephen and Jane.
In his early days as a Ph.D. student at Cambridge, doctors diagnose Hawking of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neurone disease, which has since defined him. Because of this degenerative condition, Hawking would lose control over his basic motor functions, his muscles progressively lapsing. The doctors predict 2 years tops after which Hawking would escape the tangible whole, and be born into the intangible infinity. Such was, of course, not to be the case—for Stephen Hawking happened to be born the very day he realized, he was on borrowed time.
The Theory of Everything is a nostalgic fare even if you’ve never experienced the English college scene or the social life in the 60s. It has a Victorian feel to it and flanked by soulful background scores (Jóhann Jóhannsson) and absorbing images (Benoît Delhomme), the movie seems straight out of a Jane Austen novel than a rendering of an ex-wife’s version of the her time with her genius husband. As expected, the movie is closer to Jane Wilde’s biography than Hawking’s My Brief History, but Marsh makes it appear more romantic, more prosaic than Jane articulated in the book.
Theory is more artistic than scientific, more about the heart than the mind, more about domestic life than wild work. This isn’t surprising though as Jane Hawking is a Professor of Romanticism and a laureate of Medieval Spanish Poetry. She tells this story from her lens, which isn’t always sweet, but feels genuine. Artistically enhanced by the screenwriter’s (Anthony McCarten) own fancy, Theory grows as a wistful unrest between two people with different ideologies—one a bratty atheist, other the brooding Christian.
What’s arguably the best track of this immaculate album is the characterization of both Mr. and Mrs. Hawking. These characters evolve as time passes by, even though major actions here were modified, Redmayne and Jones bring life to the roles of Stephen and Jane.
Later in their lives, Jane Wilde slips out of romance with Hawking and pursues another man, a musician, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox). Stephen can only witness this with his eyes, process it with his brain, and accept it with his psyche. With time though, the universe sends another partner for Stephen in the form of his nurse and soon to be closest confidante, Elaine Mason (Maxine Paeke). He cultivates a fondness for her and she does too—worshipping the dust beneath his wheels. In real life though, controversy ever surrounded this couple, which later materialized in a divorce in 2006.
Although March and McCarten sugarcoat major events of the movie, we still get a picture closer to reality. The duo hasn’t shied from taking ample, yet effective cinematic liberty in their pursuit to forge a warm story. Both Stephen and Jane are humans, rooted to the core, and Marsh attempts to focus on their highlight reel, whilst shunting the behind-the-scenes bloopers under the bed, which is why Theory, as a standalone, settles as a cozy tale rather than a cent percent authentic reflection of the lives of both Stephen and Jane.
Felicity Jones assumes the avatar of Jane Wilde in a manner that would make the owner of the name proud. She’s splendid as the girl depressingly in love, as the wife of Hawking, as the mother of three, and as the secret lover of a fellow artist. Her growth from Ms. Wilde to Mrs. Hawking to soon-to-be Mrs. Jones is marvelously summed up by her stern performance. Even though her character comes across as self-centered at times, this oddity gives Jones a platform to execute her acting prowess, which she does with vindication. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is flawless—very similar to the man himself. The mannerisms, speech, style, and even the look, a great job by the make-up and design artists, Eddie has to be a front-runner for the nominations this year.
The Theory of Everything is an elegiac experience that speculates about love and compassion more so than science and evolution. It’s a rekindled narrative of hope and passion and one gem of a movie—if only you absorb it as cinema and not a word-by-word adaptation of a biography. Playfully poetic in its prose, romantic amidst pragmatism, and a bittersweet tale, just be sure to ignore reality and immerse yourself into the universe of the movie.