The Theory of Everything
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
Director: James Marsh
Brilliance is a word that would be oft repeated in this review of The Theory of Everything, biopic of the most important scientist since Albert Einstein - Stephen Hawking.
The theoretical physicist-cosmologist-author is known across the world, as are his ideas thanks to his book A Brief History of Time. It is nothing less than daunting in such a scenario to present them all anew to an audience - a problem all directors face when they are trying the 'Great Man' biopic.
James Marsh sidesteps the pitfalls by focusing on Hawking's marriage, and eventual separation, from wife Jane. Considering the film is based on Jane Hawking nee Wilde's memoirs also gives it a different perspective.
So, you may not learn enough about Space Time Singularity or Black Holes to ace an exam after watching this film but you would gain an insight into the personal life of the man who set about studying time after doctors told him he had precious little left.
The film begins with the strapping Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) cycling around the streets of Cambridge with his friends. A brilliant (there we go) PhD student, he is clumsy in day-to-day life - knocking over teacups, spilling wine.
He meets arts student Jane (Felicity Jones) at a party and theirs is love at first sight. They argue about religion (he is an atheist, she a practicing Christian) and dance under starlit skies. Giddy camerawork and soft focus lenswork beautifully capture the highs of love.
And then reality strikes. He is diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given two years of life. He goes into depression and Jane's passionate confession of her love gets a scientific response, "It is a false conclusion". Jane may appear like a porcelain beauty, but she is a tough girl underneath. She gets to him and they get married.
Muscle decay continues and Hawking is confined to a wheelchair. His speech is slurred, his movements erratic but his brain is functioning at its max. He soon becomes a celebrated scientist whose theory regarding the birth and death of universe is nothing short of revolutionary.
With his mulish cheerfulness and naughty sense of humour, Hawking refuses to give into his disability. Absorbed in the search of his elusive theory, he takes Jane for granted and maintains they are a normal family. She says they are not.
Need for succor and an upstanding friendship make her turn to choirmaster Jonathan (Charlie Cox), who soon becomes an intimate family friend. He will go onto become her second husband.
Hawking's attentions - who by now is speaking in a robotic monotone through a machine -- are diverted by red-haired therapist Elaine (Maxine Peake), who, as opposed to the earthy Jane, is bubbly and perky.
What makes the film work on a visceral level is the humanity that Redmayne and Jones bring to the roles. Redmayne inhabits the character; he brings so many mannerisms for which Hawking is well known. Even as the disability progresses and he loses his voice, that impish twinkle in his eyes shows the spirit underneath. What could have deteriorated into disability porn remains poignant and realistic because of the honesty with which the actor portrays the scientist.
Jones is a match for Redmayne in every possible way. The film favours the female perspective and Jane's struggles to find her own place as she plays the role of wife, mother and caregiver are presented in intrinsic detail. The film is as much a nod to her heroic perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds.
Even though the film is about a fulfilling marriage that finally fails, it never degenerates into negativity. The underlying message is that of hope, as put in words by the physicist himself, "While there is life, there is hope." We will toast to that.