Encompassing all the best parts of films like A Beautiful Mind by Ron Howard but creating its own signature and style to the biopic genre, James Marsh’s gorgeous and beautifully compelling The Theory of Everything, the true story of Stephen and Jane Hawking, is a sensitive piece of filmmaking that stands as one of the finest movie efforts of the year. Starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen and Felicity Jones as Jane, the two develop a masterful and sonorous dynamic that behaves as a naturalistic relationship that inhabits qualities of both love and sadness. They’re a match made in heaven. Also acting as a morality tale, screenwriter Anthony McCarten puts forth intriguing questions regarding love in the shadow of someone’s disability. Do you really know what is asked of you when you vow to love someone in sickness and in health? What happens when disability doesn’t allow you to love the way you want? Are you better off just breaking free if you have the chance?
The film acts as a moving oil painting. Benoît Delhomme shoots to utter perfection. Intimate in scenes requiring the viewer’s undivided attention, and taking the liberty to capture the essence of the time where the innocence of love offers many possibilities. The scenes ultimately feel as if we’re in a dream sequence, sleeping silently as these two lives play out in our minds.
You don’t get any tears or moving feelings without the bravura score of Jóhann Jóhannsson. Criminally overlooked last year in the grand scheme of things for his work on Prisoners, the composer orchestrates his best score of his career. Very likely not just my favorite score of the year so far but one of mine in the last few years. From the opening credits, Jóhannsson puts his stamp with heavy violins and beautiful piano playing. In the end credits, you can sit and marvel as the names cross the screen with the music that accompanies it.
When it comes to biopics, people tend to automatically give credit to makeup and body language when talking about a performer. Past winners like Jamie Foxx in Ray have always felt empty as a performance but people were so tied in with the mannerisms that he brought to the role, which he often did in his stand up comedy routines. In Eddie Redmayne, we get a fully realized and tender performance. The first twenty minutes of the film, prior to the diagnosis of Hawking’s disease, Redmayne utilizes all the quick wit and charm to show what his Stephen loved the most of his work and his woman. Obviously going through the physical transformation must be rewarded. Contorting his body and learning the physical tics that Stephen Hawking has displayed in real life all ring true. Since his breakout work in Les Miserables, a role that should have landed him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, I was wary to believe I’d revisit a praising session with the young actor so soon. It’s one of the best things offered this year.
When it comes to Felicity Jones, the emotional backbone of the entire process has to be awarded to her. With stunning works in Like Crazy under her belt, Jones takes upon a daunting and heavily emotional character, never afraid to have the audience dislike or be disappointed in what she’s doing. Marsh directs her to astonishing resolve. As a leading lady, Jones ignites such fiery and compelling questions not necessarily asked before in a biopic such as this. Complex and staggering in the way she decides to portray the brave Jane, Jones allows her character to grow, and both live and learn inside of her. What’s most remarkable about Jones is she makes everything seem so effortless. She’s not faking anything, she’s really feeling and becoming Jane. She locates all the emotions required of her to execute successfully. It’s a turn I wouldn’t be surprised to see runaway with the Academy Award for Best Actress.
The supporting players are no shortage of talent, though secondary to this type of story. Charlie Cox was just as good in his screen time. As Jonathan, Cox lays it all out on the table, heart on sleeve, and soul bared for all of us to see. David Thewlis, Emily Watson, and Simon McBurney are all solid but brief.
Production Designer John Paul Kelly and Costume Designer Steven Noble should be commended for their meticulous craft in bringing the time period to the screen. An Oxford University dormitory along with a dozen outfits worn by all the characters can easily be taken for granted in a film like this.
Screenwriter Anthony McCarten adapts his script from the book “Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen” which was written by Jane Hawking. Audiences like their fair share of love stories, but some of them, rather most of them, don’t like the ugly that goes with it. In real life, people make mistakes, and do things that can make some cringe. I believe some of the more questionable and controversial things during the Hawkings marriage was merely glossed over to not paint them negatively, even though the world is well aware of what went on. I’ll be honest, I knew next to nothing about Stephen Hawking and his work prior to sitting for the movie. I knew the robot voice and that’s where it about ended. If anything, the film inspires me to learn more about Stephen’s work and theories presented. All of those things are definitely given a back seat to a film that doesn’t really require them. The Theory of Everything is not about the equations or the mathematics. It’s essentially about us. It’s about love, and not just in the form of marriage. We as humans learn to love ourselves, our families, and our children. They are placed in our lives but I’m not sure how much we realize what goes into maintaining those relationships. The movie makes you think of those things.
7 out of 10 stars