Director James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything depicts the charming, yet imperfect love story of British physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane. The 123-minute biopic is an intimate glimpse into the life of one of the great minds of our time. Thanks to scintillating cinematography—as well as stellar performances by lead actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones—this film captures the brave spirit of Hawking’s career through its portrait of a young couple’s resilience.
A physicist and cosmologist-in-training at England’s Cambridge University, Hawking (Redmayne) is a quick-witted college kid with an unusual curiosity for the mysteries of time and space. While diving into his studies, Stephen discovers a different sort of love when he meets the kind and confident Jane Wilde (Jones). The two gravitate toward one another, and their budding relationship soon grows to romance.
The artistry and creativity involved in shooting each scene is brilliant, the colors closely matching the mood of each moment. Bright hues dance across the screen, reflecting the lighthearted optimism of the couple as they walk through a carnival. Somber shades and darkness enshroud the devastating turns in their relationship. The director’s manipulation of light gives flare to the film, with Marsh bringing us to both extremes.
Upon the advent of his relationship with Jane, Stephen notices tremors in his hands that make his detailed work in science increasingly difficult. Soon, Stephen finds himself losing control of his voluntary muscles, making once-simple acts like walking and talking a challenge. Terrified and confused, Hawking tries his best to ignore the sporadic tics and malfunctions.
After a painful fall, Hawking is diagnosed at the age of 21 with motor neuron disease—a medical condition most commonly known to the public as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Stephen struggles with the realization that he likely has only a few short years to live. He is given two years, a meagre timeframe for the career he had planned. He retreats into himself, shutting others out as motivation starts to deteriorate with his body.
The film is a lesson in resilience, as Hawking rises out of his broken state—with the help of Jane and some friends from academia—and reclaims his ambitions as a scientist. His body continues to crumble, but Hawking grows optimistic with time. His scientific research is impeded significantly by the disease, but, confronting the challenges of his condition, Hawking returns to his work.
The most exceptional element of The Theory of Everything is the cinematography. Marsh uses deliberately shaky footage at times to simulate Stephen’s tremors, bringing us into Hawking’s mind as he challenges his terrifying condition.
Redmayne and Jones are dynamic leads to Marsh’s film, their onscreen chemistry allowing them to transition convincingly from lovestruck young adults to a disjointed married couple trying to cope with a terminal disease. Redmayne’s work is especially impressive, as he builds his character while simultaneously conveying his physical deterioration.
Despite the film’s phenomenal cast and camerawork, the centrality of Hawking’s relationship with Wilde can be distracting at times, upstaging his career. For a biographic film, there was very little focus on the contents of Hawking’s work, while his relationship is developed in excess. Additionally, time passes confusing throughout the film—certain characters age while others do not, and random montages throughout confound the ordering of the film’s events.
In the words of Stephen Hawking, “Where there is life, there is hope.” The unyielding optimism of The Theory of Everything ultimately outshines its weaknesses, offering a refreshing take on the biopic—a genre, in recent years, lacking innovation.
Featured Image Courtesy of Focus Features