The Theory of Everything

Directed By: James Marsh

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, and David Thewlis

Performances marked by darkness and conflict are the ones typically rewarded during awards season.  Just look at last year's Oscar winners for Best Actor and Best Actress in leading roles.  On one hand, we have a self-destructive homophobic AIDS patient with Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.  On the other, we have a crazy widow who has lost it all including her marbles courtesy of the Wall Street fraudster she married with Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.  These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  What's often lost, however, is that hopeful performances can be just as potent in an equally resonant way.  The proof is in Eddie Redmayne's career over the last several years.  With My Week With Marilyn and Les Misérables added to his filmography in the last several years, there's absolutely no excuse for Redmayne to have been forgotten on the awards circuit.  It would be an even greater travesty if his performance in this year's The Theory of Everything were ignored as well.  After all, it just happens to be the crowning performance of Redmayne's career thus far.

For Stephen Hawking (Redmayne), everything changes when he meets French and Spanish literature student Jane (Felicity Jones).  He falls hard for her and tries to win over her heart.  Sparks fly, and a beautiful romance ensues.  A fellow Oxford student in the sciences, Hawking is unsure of what he will be declaring as his concentration to the dismay of his professor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis).  After hearing a lecture from famed mathematician Roger Penrose (Christian McKay) on black holes, he decides to concentrate in time, a rather broad subject area.  Regardless, the lecture got Hawking thinking of a way to figuratively reverse time back far enough to theorize what happened when the universe began.

While Stephen gets busy with proving his theory about the universe and his relationship with Jane heats up, he misses some troubling signs.  He's dropping things.  He's having a tough time trying to write.  He's stumbling.  When he finally falls, Stephen goes to the doctor and suddenly must come to terms with a crushing defeat.  He's afflicted with a motor neuron disease whereby he will gradually lose all his motor skills, including that of speech.  Stephen's mind will remain as sharp as ever.  It's just that no one will have a clue what brilliant ideas he's thinking.  Worst of all, the average life expectancy of an individual with this particular affliction is two years.  Now, he's really racing against time to figure out the universe.  Meanwhile, Stephen's dire circumstances have put his relationship with Jane to the ultimate test.

In the iconic role of Stephen Hawking, Eddie Redmayne gives what may one day be considered a career-defining performance.  Redmayne looks like Hawking.  He moves like him.  He has that defiant glow about him just like Hawking.  Notably, his performance is one of diminishing expressiveness.  Marked by body language, Redmayne starts off giving a vibrant, quirky portrayal of a young Hawking with an unquenchable curiosity about what makes the universe tick.  As the film and the motor neuron disease both progress, Redmayne's performance becomes simultaneously much less physical in some respects and far more emotive in others.  Specifically, his performance is all in his eyes, which are full of emotion and a will to live.  It's a potent yet restrained performance that speaks to Redmayne's mastery of his craft.  This tragically beautiful turn is undoubtedly the best performance I've seen on the big screen this year.

Redmayne has an equally talented partner in crime with actress Felicity Jones.  In her performance as Jane Hawking, Jones gives a surprisingly tough performance in which she shows that Mrs. Hawking is stronger than she looks.  At times stoic and at others trying to suppress her character's woes, Jones gives a nuanced emotional take on Jane that shows the toll this strength takes as well.  It's all in Jones's facial expressions.  At times, she's delivering a dejected look that can break moviegoers' hearts.  At others, she's delivering a look that can kill.  All in all, Jones delivers what may just be her finest performance since 2011's Like Crazy.

While the performances from our stars carry The Theory of Everything, I have mixed thoughts on the film's direction.  I commend James Marsh for tackling themes of existence and faith in a higher power in such a fun way.  The intriguing cosmology and physics behind the film certainly feed my science need in the wake of Interstellar.  However, the film drops the ball as a period piece.  While stylistic flourishes are there to emphasize the 1960s at Oxford, there's no real clarity on how much time actually elapses on screen over the course of two hours.  The lack of the appropriate make-up as the characters age definitely plays a role as well.  The average moviegoer would have no clue that nearly thirty years pass over the course of the film until Hawking breaks out some gray hair at the film’s conclusion.  For this, I fault Marsh.

The Theory of Everything is a film that quietly and beautifully explores the toll motor neuron disease takes on Stephen Hawking and his loved ones.  Though James Marsh makes a few questionable creative moves from the director's chair, the film is marked by incredible performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.  Full of romance and laced with humor, this biopic about a man defying the tragedy that befell him hits the mark.  The Theory of Everything gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.