The origins of the universe prove as mysterious as the intimacy of a marriage in The Theory of Everything.
Anchored by a pair of mesmerizing performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who star as Stephen Hawking and Jane Hawking, the film almost functions as a more thoughtful companion piece to the blockbuster Interstellar, which also concerns itself with matters of the heart amid the cosmos.
Adapted from Jane Hawking’s 2008 memoir, Travelling to Infinity, by screenwriter Anthony McCarten, Everything joins Hawking as he embarks on his studies at Cambridge in the early 1960s. While the film takes its time in the theoretical physicist’s later years, the first half-hour feels unnecessarily rushed, giving only the faintest impression of Hawking’s initial courtship of Jane, who proves to be more than capable of sparring with Hawking’s formidable intellect.
When Hawking is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease and his body begins to cruelly atrophy, Everything shifts into its most compelling stretch, as Redmayne impressively portrays Hawking’s gradual decline and eventual immobility, contorting his body, strangling his speech and rendering him wholly dependent upon others. (It’s easy to get lost in Redmayne’s physical metamorphosis, so much so that, late in the film during a brief lecture sequence, the actor reveals just how fully he transformed himself.)
Stephen and Jane’s complicated relationship forms the film’s spine, which doesn’t shy away from the tension created upon the arrival of caretakers Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox) and Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). Each actor grounds the occasionally sentimental, occasionally heady material — grand theories about black holes and the very beginning of time are made digestible, but the physicist’s life’s work is secondary to the emotional story being told.
Director James Marsh, best known for his dizzying doc Man on Wire, employs a few stylized moments — the Hawkings’ wedding is filmed like a home movie — but otherwise stays out of the way, and allows his excellent cast to do their jobs. McCarten’s screenplay never plunges below the surface, and remains content to provide allusions and suggestions, sticking to a traditional biopic structure.
Not enough can be said about Redmayne’s astonishingly committed turn as Hawking — he’ll undoubtedly draw comparisons to Daniel Day-Lewis’s work as Christy Brown in My Left Foot — but it’s the launchpad from which every other actor soars. Jones also proves revelatory, ably handling a role that might have been one-note in lesser hands.
Although it wrestles with space and time, The Theory of Everything ultimately draws you in with its beautifully acted depiction of an unconventional love, one ultimately as unknowable as the deepest reaches of our galaxy.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Cinemark West Plano; opens Nov. 21 AMC NorthPark, Dallas; opens Nov. 28 across North Texas
THE THEORY OF
* * * * (out of five)
Director: James Marsh
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis
Rating: PG-13 (thematic elements, suggestive material)
Run time: 123 min.