The Theory of Everything is a film overflowing with sentimentality. It begins by setting up an intriguing romance between two Cambridge students that’s intermingled with playful debates on the existence of God and academic discussions of physics and the nature of time. Then one of the young lovers is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The doctor says he only has two years left to live. The student finishes his phD thesis because he believes that he has valuable insight in his field. The student is Stephen Hawking. The young lovers get married, and somewhere along the way, they have several children. Eventually, Hawking becomes confined to a wheelchair and requires more care. As their marriage and their lives press on, they move from lovers to mere partners to little more than a nurse and a patient.
The story of Stephen Hawking, though compelling, is not one sprinkled with adventure and intrigue. Luckily for us, the makers of The Theory of Everything knew this and accounted for it. It’s a nostalgic film and as much a rumination on time as a story of a man’s life. Occasionally, the information on the life of Hawking seems to be scattered and scarce and the film forsakes the template of a conventional biopic to reveal more about a marriage that has seen better days. Considering the movie’s sentimental focus on the passing of time, the result could have been titled, A Brief History of Stephen Hawking. Though not a comprehensive look at the life and work of Hawking, this bittersweet film beautifully encapsulates the nostalgia of remembering the best years of one’s life, the longing to turn back the clock to those times that pulsate with a romantic anticipation of great times to come.
The one problematic scene in the entire film occurs at the end of the film. The Q&A with Hawking seems like an obvious set-up for the film to cash in on a cheap feel-good moment and it is exactly that. Hawking’s answer, his declaration of his personal philosophy may be accurate but somehow it seems inconsistent with what we have already come to think about his life throughout the film.
Most of the film’s best moments are products of Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Hawking, which is remarkably accomplished. It appears to be the work of a talented actor with the confidence and maturity to dive headfirst into character. Seeing a young actor undertake and conquer such an ambitious role is a small revelation. The score by Johann Johannsson is also worth mentioning for its effortless evocation of the film’s romantic sensibilities.
Written on April 2, 2015