‘Tis the season for Oscars. One of my most favorite times of year! And one of the biggest films out is The Theory of Everything. I was thrilled to see Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking especially after the critical mess of Les Miserables (though he wasn’t so bad in it, I’ll admit). But he has taken the silver screen by storm recently along with many teenage girls’ hearts.
But besides the heartthrob status, he is an amazingly talented actor. To take such a meaty character like Hawking and not only embrace the mindset but also the physical is a feat for any actor to undertake, and Redmayne did a fantastic job allowing the audience to watch the slow degeneration Hawking went through.
I went into The Theory of Everything expecting to get a history of Hawkings’ life and his work. Well, I was disappointed. We open with how Stephen and Jane, his then wife, met. A very classic Hollywood meeting with eyes across the room and witty dialogue full of romantic promise. Their courtship begins as Stephen is working toward his PhD at Cambridge University in 1963.
Through one-liners and quick actions, we learn about Stephen’s mind and genius, but that’s all. His theories comes through short scenes of other people talking about his work.There is even a scene where Jane breaks time down using peas and potatoes making it more comprehensible to the plebeians but also to show that she is also quite smart. I thought this was a lazy plot device.
But back in 1963 as a student, he still hasn’t found his thesis topic, and as it dawns on him, he takes his first major fall leading him to the discovery of his motor neurone disease, the UK name for ALS. Love conquers all as Jane proclaims her love and devotion, promising to never leave him. With a literal fade to black at this first act break, Hollywood does not shy away from the conventional making this film as cookie-cutter as any other biopic.
Over time, we see Stephen gradually move to his hunched state from walking with two canes to his electric wheelchair, but more than that, his theory changes in reverse making him an esteemed and revered professor. But in my opinion, the way the movie showed his professional life seemed to say he was more whishy-washy than knowledgeable. I have no doubt that Stephen Hawking is a bona fide genius, but this film rarely showed him researching or gaining the knowledge to make these claims, so it would seem that he made all of this stuff up and was called an intellectual.
The film proved to be more on the personal side of his life focusing on his relationship with his wife, Jane, including lines about how he can conceive three children (“automatic”) and the impending affairs on both sides. So when the credits ran and said that the film was based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen written by Jane, it became much more clear. This was Stephen’s life through Jane’s eyes. I wish I had known that before going in. My expectations would have been reset for a romantic drama rather than a film about Stephen Hawking.
The film is very much geared toward Jane and her life surrounding her husband. While Stephen is the famous face, it wasn’t about his genius or fame, it was about how Jane juggled three kids and her husband while fighting her affections for a God-fearing man named Jonathan. Only once do we see Jane’s desire to continue her own education. She is reading a book about Spanish poetry in the kitchen while Stephen carts the children around in a childish and maniacal way via his electric wheelchair. Never again do we see any desire in Jane to want to expand her own mind. Whether she is upset being in Stephen’s shadow or upset at her misfortune is never fully explained.
With this now in mind, I thought this film was okay, if not dull. It was just another biopic released in the Oscar season probably thought to get some awards because of the subject matter. It’s no wonder why the Academy is struggling this year with viewers and attention. The films that are out aren’t anything special and over-the-top.
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were absolutely incredible; powerhouses in their roles, but if this were released at any other time in the year, it would have been easily forgotten. It’s not a film that stands out to impress the world about the knowledge behind Hawkings’ theories or even ALS. It’s a romantic drama that will warm hearts instead of challenge them.
The Theory of Everything is nominated for Best Actor (Redmayne), Best Actress (Jones), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Picture.
2 out of 5 stars