Movie Review: “The Theory of Everything”

Half of this year’s Best Picture nominees are biopics. Without realising it, I ended up seeing all four biopics over a period of two weeks, so I have something akin to biopic fatigue, which is not the fault of The Theory of Everything. I just wanted to acknowledge it. The Theory of Everything followes the lives of Stephen and Jane Hawking, from their meeting until their visit to Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II offered Stephen a knighthood, which he ultimately decline. As far as the biopics nominated for Best Picture go, this isn’t the best; Selma is. That being said, the acting in this film was phenomenal.

Eddie Redmayne deserves all his nominations and wins for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking. Redmayne, like Tatiana Maslany before him, demonstrates how acting is about more than just saying words, it’s about inhabiting a character in their movements, body language and facial expressions. I haven’t always been a fan of Redmayne, even though I realise that my problems with Les Miserables have more to do with Marius as a character than Redmayne as a performer. Anyway, he’s great. I haven’t read any reviews of this film (I try to write my reviews without having read any other opinions first, unless I have problems articulating my thoughts, as I did with Birdman), but I hope they praise Felicity Jones just as much as they do Redmayne because this is a film about Stephen and Jane Hawking, and Jones’ performance was of the same calibre as Redmayne’s. The best actors are acting in their faces and their bodies, and Felicity Jones has great microexpressions. The scene where Stephen and Jane’s marriage ends and both of the actors are crying I believed it, because the acting was so good, and just as important, the chemistry between the actors was so strong that I believed that relationship, and that Stephen and Jane are still friends.

There were points at which I wondered about the historical accuracy of the film (it seems to be a constant problem with biopics), even as I realise that it’s more important to create a film that is good than one that is accurate. I found it incredibly convenient that Jane began an affair on the night that Stephen collapsed at the Bordeaux Symphony, but given that that was an ideal time to have an affair, and the film is based on Jane Hawking’s memoirs (which I didn’t learn until the credits), it makes more sense. What I wonder about, and this is a question that isn’t answered in the film, is why Jane made the decision that Stephen should have a trachioctomy? Was it because she loved him, because she believed his work was too importants, or because of her guilt? Probably a combination of all three. I’m now more interested in reading Jane Hawking’s memoir than I am American Sniper. At least I’ll have good reading material for when I eventually finish Wolf Hall.

Another thing I found fascinating about the film was the symbolism, and how it fit in with Hawking’s theory, as well as his illness. Hawking was inspired by a lecture on black hole theory, and circles were a constant image in The Theory of Everything. When Hawking was in the sparse doctor’s office, there was a circular window. Hawking’s drawings of black holes were circles within circles. After Jane learns about Stephen’s disease (or he just hung up on her, I can’t remember), she climbs a spiral staircase up a tower with a circular skylight to his dormitory. Are the circles representative of time or the universe. Is time a flat circle? I don’t know, but I was grateful to be able to learn about Stephen and Jane Hawking’s lives.

Other thoughts:

  • The whole part where Jane’s mother suggests she joins the church choir is hilarious, and definitely a very British thing to say. What surprised me was that when Jane walked into the church, the choir was singing Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus”, which I have sung in more than one choir.
  • I’ve been to the same cinema so many times that I can practically quote the trailer for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I am certain I will never see.
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