Theory of Everything tells the real life story of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), from his early days at Cambridge, to the meeting of his wife Jane (Felicity Jones), to the onset of his ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and his fifty year battle with the disease. Hawking began his student life studying Cosmology at Cambridge, where he met Jane Wilde who was pursuing a degree in Romance Languages. Very early on in their courtship, Hawking started to suffer the symptoms of ALS and was expected to only survive two years. Despite the terminal diagnosis, Hawking and Wilde married and started a family. His disabilities meant that the responsibilities of home and family rested firmly on his Jane’s increasingly overwhelmed shoulders, but it left him more time to concentrate on his theoretical work. Of course life was not all roses for the Hawkings, as his health deteriorated and their family grew, Jane needed more and more help, and eventually she met Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox) who led the church choir. Jonathan had recently lost his wife to leukemia and after befriending the family was anxious to assist. In the film Jonathan becomes a father to the Hawking children that Stephen could not be, and it looked like he would be a lover to Jane as well, seemingly with Stephen’s acceptance and blessing, but they managed to keep things platonic. The film continues to show us the private life of Hawking, who eventually finds companionship with Elaine Mason, his caregiver. Stephen eventually leaves Jane and marries Elaine, though the film really only covers the separation from Jane who eventually reconnects with Jonathan. It all sounds like a giant soap opera when put to (digitial) paper, but it really wasn’t.
Theory of Everything was an interesting bio-pic, that was highlighted by Redmayne’s absolutely brilliant performance. He played out each stage of the disease as it affected Hawking, and showed how it impacted his work and his personal life. He has won both the BAFTA and the Golden Globe for Actor in a Leading Role, and is obviously nominated for the Oscar. I’ve always been a little hard on bio-pics and people who play historical figures. Are they really acting or are they just really doing an impression of their subject? Should an imitation of another person really be applauded as acting over that of an actor taking on the role of a fictional character? When playing a real life person, you are restricted in what you can do, because you want the portrayal to be as accurate as possible. Usually the subject is world famous, so there is not much room to bring creativity to the role, as you are free to do when you interpret a fictional character. I’ve usually been the cynic, but Redmayne has given me reason to change my opinion. Well, perhaps not my overall feelings, but my opinion in this particular case. He is playing a very difficult role because of the physical demands and disabilities of the real man. As the film goes on, his ability to convey the emotions, thoughts and ideas of Hawking diminish from full on dialogues to near paralysis, with only his eyes remaining active to tell the story.
I find it incredible sometimes that Stephen Hawking; a scientist, a physicist, an author who deals with some pretty high level theories; has become a pop culture icon. He has appeared (as himself) in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, been on several episodes of The Big Bang Theory, voiced himself on The Simpsons, and now has another movie about his life. Ironically Benedict Cumberbatch played Hawking in the TV movie Hawking ten years ago, and has also been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar this year for playing Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.
Bottom Line: Oooh boy, it is going to be a very, very difficult Oscar pool this year. To retain my championship at work, I have to remember to pick with my head, not with my heart…