If you know anything about the scientific community, you’ve probably got some idea of who Stephen Hawking is. If you don’t, well, here’s a little background: he’s a scientist who was diagnosed with ALS at a young age, given two years to live, but is miraculously still alive something like 50 years later. He’s changed the way that human beings think about the universe through his theories, and is considered one of the most important minds to ever exist. And he did almost all of this while being unable to move most of his body or even speak.
The Theory of Everything is a biopic based on Hawking’s life up until, I’d estimate, around the year 2000. He is portrayed wonderfully by Eddie Redmayne. The story begins in the 1960s, with Stephen studying at Cambridge, which is where he met Jane (Felicity Jones), whom he would go on to marry and with whom he would have several children. If the film does one thing, it’s shine some light into how much Jane aided Stephen in his life. She’s the heart of the story if he’s the brains, and it’s only because of her dedication that Stephen is perhaps even alive to this day. It certainly would have been even more of a struggle had someone like Jane not been there.
What The Theory of Everything brings across most strongly is the debilitating effect that ALS has on a person. Yes, it’s amazing that, despite being given two years to live, Stephen Hawking has survived into his 70s, but that doesn’t mean it was easy or that it isn’t heart-wrenching watching the disease cripple his body. The film shows this in great detail, and at times it’s hard to watch. The tone of the film is mostly quite light — there are jokes along the way, some even made at Stephen’s physical condition — but you can certainly feel how painful a condition this would be for someone.
It also portrays the love between Jane and Stephen quite well. There will be no questions about how deep their love ran after the film ends, and how much of a sacrifice Jane made for her husband over the years. It, too, is something to watch.
What The Theory of Everything struggles with is communicating just how important Stephen Hawking is, and what he’s done for science. His story is inspirational even without that, but if you didn’t know who he was going into the film, you’re only going to get a brief glimpse into the academic side of the man. The film is far more concerned with his home life with Jane than any of his contributions to his field; more of a balance would have made this a more informative biopic.
There also isn’t a lot of conflict in the film, beyond the obvious, of course. Stephen and Jane don’t really fight, there’s very little tension between anyone about anything, and it paints everyone as nice and amiable and more or less perfect; real people are not like this. That’s an inherent problem with making a biopic about living subjects, though, and that we get a worthwhile film at all is quite the blessing. And The Theory of Everything is worth seeing, as its love story and its depiction of Hawking are both enjoyable, if a little sad.
Eddie Redmayne comes out of nowhere and delivers one of the year’s best performances. It’s a primarily physical performance, one in which the actor imitates the subject, since ALS is something that has left Hawking almost completely unable to move. Redmayne, in turn, charts the physical deterioration from its beginning to its current state, and you will believe that he is Stephen Hawking. Felicity Jones does her part to be the heart of our story, even if her performance is going to be overlooked in favor of Redmayne’s transformation.
The Theory of Everything is an occasionally touching biopic based on the personal life of Stephen Hawking. It doesn’t mention as much of his scientific or academic life as one might hope — an audience member with no prior knowledge of the man will fail to grasp his importance — but it does offer a wonderful glimpse into how he got to this point in his life. Eddie Redmayne transforms into Hawking in one of the year’s best performances, and the love story at its core is genuinely sweet. The Theory of Everything is a film worth seeing.