Even if the odds are against you, there will always be hope.
This is the message of The Theory of Everything, which explores the marriage of physicist Stephen Hawking to his first wife Jane. Based on Jane’s autobiography Traveling to Infinity, the film explores their 26 years of marriage
Directed by James Marsh, The Theory of Everything is unconventionally frank in its portrayal of the couple’s life, but the final product does not border on sentiment.
Beginning in 1963, 21-year old Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) meets an undergraduate named Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) during a party at Cambridge University. Stephen and Jane are radically different in their religious beliefs— he’s an atheist while she’s a Christian— but they begin seeing each other and look past their differences.
Although brilliant at physics, Stephen is unorganized and cannot make up his mind on a topic for his thesis. In addition, he is having problems with clumsiness and dexterity.
After a nasty fall, Stephen is hospitalized and undergoes tests that confirm he has ALS— a fatal disease that will slowly kill him while leaving his brain unaffected. The doctors explain that there is no cure and that Stephen will have two years to live.
Upon learning of his diagnosis, he slumps into a depression, but Jane urges him to snap out of his funk. Stephen’s own parents try to warn Jane against the relationship, stating that his fate will be “a very heavy defeat.”
Nevertheless, Jane is determined to spend what little time they have left together, and this inspires Stephen to choose time as the subject for his doctorate.
The young couple gets married, raising three children over the next several years. Stephen receives his Ph.D. and continues searching for a “Theory of Everything,” wanting to explain the universe.
While thriving professionally and personally, his condition worsens as time progresses, and he reluctantly agrees to use a wheelchair. Ever so stubborn, he refuses to accept hands-on-nursing care, for which Jane is primarily responsible.
Feeling unsatisfied with her life, Jane joins a church choir and strikes up a friendship with widowed Jonathan Jones, played by Charlie Cox. This brings a source of tension when her in-laws suspect Jonathan is the father of her youngest child. Eventually, Stephen and Jane reach a point where they have to face reality about their situation.
Redmayne brings a depth to Hawking, which enables him to project enthusiasm, fear, frustration and optimism. The 33-year old actor is believable as a boyish, witty college student and sympathetic as an older, professor by using a set of mannerisms from his wide eyes to impish smile.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking scene in the film is when Stephen is bathing himself while examining the fingers on his right hand. The moment is painful to watch, as he starts to realize his body is failing him. Through the use of prosthetics and wigs, Redmayne shows Stephen aging from his early 20s to middle age realistically.
Redmayne’s greatest challenge was the film’s third act, which required the actor to convey emotion without speaking.
Leading lady Felicity Jones delivers a quiet, determined portrayal of Jane. Even though she endures several challenges, the character is a pillar of strength for her husband whilst struggling with an unfulfilled desire to finish her literature studies. Some of the film’s highlights involve Jane engaging in frequent debates with Stephen on the existence of a deity and whether God exists.
The supporting cast, too, is a delight to watch. Cox brings a mixture of concern and likeability to the role of Jonathan without coming off as an opportunistic “other man.” Most interestingly, he admits his attraction to Jane but refuses to act on such desires.
David Thewlis plays Stephen’s mentor Dennis Sciama, a warm, paternal figure not unlike Remus Lupin.
Even the real Hawking makes his presence felt; he has provided the use of his speech synthesizer for the film. Hearing his distinct, memorable “voice” is jarring but recognizable.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, whose mixture of vivid color and imagery is aesthetically pleasing. For example, the May Ball sequence depicts Cambridge students dressed in formal attire with Tide bleach rendering white clothing in a bluish tinge.
Composer Johann Johannsson’s electronic/acoustic score is subtle, yet effective.
In terms of accuracy, the film is factual in the portrayals of Stephen, Jane and their life together. Marsh and screenwriter Andrew McCarten do not glamorize the Hawking’s marriage, but it does not fall into sentimental territory either.
While the film touches on Stephen’s academic achievements, it does not feel boring or tedious, such as Jane’s humorous explanation of physics using the dinner she has cooked.
The issue of the couple’s intimacy is briefly alluded to but not shown; Stephen jokingly tells a colleague that his disease didn’t affect everything in his body.
The Theory of Everything is one of 2014’s best films.