Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Theory of Everything: Love & Physics

I was under the impression that The Theory of Everything would be very similar to The Imitation Game. Both are movies about brilliant British scientists who did extraordinary things in their fields yet faced tremendous personal hardships. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that rather than being a biopic about a lone genius, The Theory of Everything is much more focused on the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane, and their extraordinary journey together.

Perhaps this is not surprising, as the movie is based on Jane Hawking's memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen. Felicity Jones plays Jane, who meets Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) in Cambridge and is captivated by this slightly awkward but funny and brilliant physicist. When Stephen is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and given two years to live, Jane refuses to leave his side, and insists that they spend whatever time he has left with each other. They get married, have children, and despite Stephen's rapid physical deterioration, he somehow continues to defy the odds. His scintillating theories on black holes and the origins of the universe earn him his PhD and while he now has to resort to a wheelchair and has increasingly slurred speech, he is still earning academic accolades and delivering brilliant lectures to his astonished peers.

The script by Anthony McCarten beautifully and lovingly portrays the heartbreaking evolution of their relationship. As Stephen becomes more debilitated, Jane gets more overwhelmed, unable to take care of him and their children full-time while also pursuing her own academic career. They both develop emotional attachments to other people but are still bonded by their enduring love for each other. It is easy to see how these two incredible people came together, but equally easy to see how they gradually moved apart.

Redmayne and Jones deliver simply astonishing performances and they fully deserve all the accolades coming their way. I expected this to be completely Redmayne's picture - after all, he is portraying an iconic figure who changed the world and defied all expectations. His performance is spectacular; he completely morphs into Hawking, gradually letting his limbs lose their function one by one until he is finally transformed into the wheelchair-bound, robot-voiced Professor that we all know today. But Jones is equally marvelous, portraying a strong, extraordinary woman, who fully embodies the idea of "the woman behind the man." She captures all of Jane's wit, intelligence, strength, and vulnerability, and it is clear to see that the Hawking household did not contain just one genius.

The Theory of Everything is a wonderful romantic tale, anchored by two incredible performances, an impeccable script, a moving score by Johann Johannson, and solid direction by James Marsh. It is uplifting and triumphant, and a glorious behind-the-scenes look at a very famous man and the woman who helped him achieve his dreams. 

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