The Theory of Everything is a biopic that focuses on the life of Stephen Hawking. The movie spans the period of time from his time as a graduate student and Cambridge University, to his life as a celebrated celebrity and scholar.
There’s not much of a secret to how the story of world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking plays out. This movie focuses on the portion of his life as it relates to his relationship with his now ex-wife, Jane. The two first meet when Hawking is trying to figure out what to do his doctorate work on in college. They meet at a party full of scientists. I’m still at a loss for how someone convinced a woman studying period poetry to go to this party but, they did it. The two hit it off and a courtship follows with Jane falling for the charms of the awkward genius.
Hawking also continues to impress those around him with his intellect even if his lack of direction does frustrate his teachers and his peers. He displays a lot of the social unawareness that comes along with being a genius but he’s also shown to have quite a sense of humor. As time passes Hawking becomes more physically awkward. Eventually, he collapses while on campus and is taken to the doctor. Hawking is informed that he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and that he likely only has two years to live. His friends and family are in shock and Stephen retreats into himself. However, it’s Jane that refuses to give up on him and fights against his wishes and his families to stay in his life. She wants him to make the best of the little time that he has left.
Stephen and Jane marry and have 3 children. As expected his health continues to decline and he slowly loses the ability to control his body. Eventually it gets to the point where he is confined to a wheelchair. With the help of his loving wife, Stephen’s able to complete his doctorate work. The specific topic of his work changes, but it always comes back to the simple and complex idea of finding an equation that explains everything. Because she has to assist him, Jane becomes very knowledgeable about his work. This is presented as a big part of their relationship because, at different times, Stephen claims that his work could either prove or disprove the need for a “god” in the universe.
Time goes on and Stephen lives for much longer than anyone expected, including Jane. The strain of caring for her husband as well as their children begins to get to Jane. The family takes on a widower as a live-in helper. They all become close and Jane and the widower eventually develop feelings for each other. Stephen and Jane have another child, but everyone suspects that the child is actually the product of an affair. Jane insists that it’s not but still has an affair with the man. When Stephen ends up getting sick and falling in to a coma. Jane breaks off her relationship and recommits to her efforts to support Stephen on her own.
The episode results in Stephen needing a procedure that costs him his ability to speak. Having lost the only real physical ability that he had left, Stephen and Jane have to fight through another difficult time. They recover as Stephen learns to use a speech board to communicate. Eventually, he is introduced to a speech therapist of sorts who specializes in this form of communication. She works with him and ends up developing the technology that would allow Hawking to regain his voice through the use of a software that would read his eyes and allow him to “speak” with the aid of a computerized voice. Even though this helps Hawking, it also hurts his marriage and he becomes closer to this woman as she can communicate with him freely, even without his voice.
As his fame continues to spread, Stephen is invited to America. He ends up inviting this other woman to come with him instead of Jane. This conversation results in Jane finally breaking down and admitting that this life is too much for her. With Stephen’s blessing, she returns to the widower, while Stephen heads to America with his new caretaker. Even though they go their own ways, the two continue to have a good relationship. They are reunited when Stephen is invited to meet the Queen and offered a knighthood. The two talk briefly as they watch their children play and Stephen remarks on how he and Jane made them.
It’s a little strange to say, but I felt like The Theory of Everything was better as just a movie than it was as a biopic. The story is very much about their relationship more than it is about either Stephen or Jane as individuals. While it’s an interesting view point to tell the story from, it doesn’t provide a complete narrative. There’s ambiguity in several situations that the movie portrays. The ambiguity comes about because we don’t get the true perspective of the characters. There’s very little inner monologue and no private thoughts shared with the audience. That leaves several situations up to interpretation. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it it does mean that there’s a part of the story that we weren’t being told. Whenever that happens, it means there’s a chance that the viewer won’t feel satisfied with what they’re being shown.
Otherwise, the movie does a really good job of trying to balance a lot of different things at the same time. The story behind Stephen Hawking is both triumphant and tragic. The movie balances moments of humor, charm, defiance, struggle, victory, joy, and sadness in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming or taxing. Many parts of the film are shot in a very soft lighting and with some metaphoric imagery that makes it almost feel like a dream or flashback sequence at times. I think that method of making the film feel reflective is a big part of the reason that all of the things that are happening in the movie don’t feel overwhelming. I think the other reason has to do with the portrayal of Hawking as having an indomitable sense of humor. I mean, how can you not like a scene with him rolling around impersonating a Dalek for his kids after getting his new robotic voice.
While Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen was good, I felt like Felicity Jones really stole the show as Jane. Her character had some of the best moments in the entire movie. I think my favorite scene in the whole movie was listening her explain/defend Stephen’s work as it related to disproving the existence of God to a man of the faith even though it went against her own beliefs. A close second was when she switched gears from wanting to cheat on her husband to insisting that the doctors sacrifice his voice to save his life. It was a great job of capturing a lot of different facets of a woman who fought into a remarkable situation without over-romanticizing her.
This wasn’t my favorite biopic this year, but it is a good movie. More serious than the things I normally go out to watch in my free time but, an interesting look into people dealing with a very tough situation.
The Theory of Everything
- Unique perspective on the life of Stephen Hawking
- The film is shot in a way that give a very warm feeling to a tragic circumstance
- Very strong performance from Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking
- It's a biopic but, at times, it's unclear whose biography it is
- The film jumps to different points in time and sometimes feels like it leaves gaps in the story