Needless to say, the life of Dr. Stephen Hawking is an inspiring story to tell. When he was about to begin his promising academic career, he was diagnosed to have Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and it was assumed that he had only two years to live at most. However, he has not only continued to live despite his gradually deteriorating physical condition but also established himself as one of the leading theoretical physicists in the world, and his struggle of long years has inspired many people especially since he came into public consciousness with the publication of “A Brief History of Time”, which is still waiting to be read in my bookshelf.
While it does have emotionally strong moments to touch our lacrimal glands, “The Theory of Everything” remains as a standard biopic film which deals its subject in a soft, respectable way as focusing more on emotion than reason, and you may be disappointed if you want to know more than what has already been known about Dr. Hawking and his dramatic life story. Its second half is weaker than the first half mainly because it gives us a superficial (and sanitized) version of how the relationship between Hawking and his first wife was eventually eroded in the end, and I came to wonder whether the filmmakers had a little too much respect toward them to show everything including warts and all about them. Despite all these flaws, the movie is supported well by its two commedable Oscar season performances, and they make it a little more special than an average biopic.
The movie begins its story around 1963, when young Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was a graduate student at Cambridge. His immense talent as a future scientist is quickly recognized by his professor and colleagues, and Professor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) gladly encourages his bright pupil to set his first step toward the academia. Although it takes some time for Hawking to decide on the subject of his doctoral thesis, he quickly starts his research once he decided his subject, and we see him fully concentrating on those complex mathematical equations written on his blackboard.
Meanwhile, he happens to meet Jane Wilde (Felicity Jone) at a campus pub. As an awkward atheist lad majoring in cosmology and a perky Christian girl majoring in medieval Spanish poetry, they cannot possibly be more different from each other, but something clicks between them, so they come to spend more time with each other as recognizing their difference worldviews. This is surely something we have seen from many romance films, but Jones and Redmayne have a good chemistry as our lovely couple, so we do not mind about watching them in their blissful courtship coupled with a bit of intelligent discussion on the universe and the existence of God.
However, as it has been implied through a few minor moments, it turns out that Hawking’s body has been weakening due to ALS, and he is utterly devastated by this bad news. He becomes more isolated and depressed, and, as his body condition gets only worse day by day, he finds it more difficult to move his body, and more despair and frustration follow. Redmayne, who is guaranteed to be Oscar-nominated for his fully committed performance here in this film, is captivating to watch in his heartbreaking portrayal of this terrible degenerative disease, and we get the glimpses of the darkest time in Hawking’s life as he locks himself from the world outside in his deep desperation.
Hawking eventually becomes more determined to pursue his academic career, and Jane, who reached to him even when he did not want her to be around him, stands by him with admirable dedication. They marry not long after finding that their bond is still strong despite Hawking’s illness, and they even manage to have children (as Hawking jockingly tells to his friend at one point, his certain body part is still “automatic”). Jones, who also deserves an Oscar nomination for her good performance, fills her character with strong personality to match Redmyane’s, and she and Redmayne create a firm emotional center of the film as their characters struggling with the difficulties of their married life.
The rest of the story follows Hawking’s academic success as we know. As continuing to live longer than expected, he graduates with a doctoral degree, and then he keeps moving on with his new scientific theories on the universe. This is not a very exciting part in the film because it only gives us bits of information about his research, and I must point out that the depiction of his intriguing study on black hole feels too brief, though I was certainly amused by one short scene in which Hawking mentions Dr. Kip Thorne, who recently worked as the scientific adviser for the depiction of that giant black hole in “Interstellar” (2014).
The movie also feels lackluster in its flat depiction of the eventual separation of Hawking and his wife. Jane later finds herself drawn to a handsome church choir director, and their relationship before her divorce in 1995 is mostly kept on the level of soapy platonic love in the film. In case of Hawking, he also finds himself attracted to his nurse, and the movie does not tell a lot about their relationship, which, as some of you may remember, would not last long.
Considering that the director James Marsh did a terrific job on presenting an exceptional real-life story in Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire” (2008), “The Theory of Everything” feels less distinctive in comparison as a safe product, but Redmayne and Jones are praiseworthy in their heartfelt performances, and they are good enough to recommend the movie. Maybe it should have been called “The Theory of Love” instead considering its rather maudlin attitude, but its sappy heart is all right at least.