The man and woman behind ‘The Theory of Everything’

One moment of James Marsh’s new biopic, “The Theory of Everything,” displays Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones of “Like Crazy”) spinning, round and round, giddy with excitement. Stephen, a doctoral student at the prestigious University of Cambridge, just had an epiphany which redefines how the world works. His theory hinges on the singularity of the space time continuum — that if he reversed time, he could calculate when and how time began.

Time traveling’s a privilege few yield, including “The Theory of Everything’s” filmmakers. Marsh, Redmayne and Jones (with the help of editor Jinx Godfrey and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme) rewind the clock and play back Hawking’s life in two hours on the silver screen.

Based on Jane Hawking’s memoir “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” the story begins in 1963. Stephen and Jane meet at a Cambridge party and do an adorably awkward dance around each other. Because it’s a film, there’s room for embellishments — there’s lights and music and stars and literal fireworks that fill the night sky. A jazz quartet serenades the couple as Jane quotes Genesis to Stephen; and then its just the two of them — like Adam and Eve, swaying together on a bridge, sharing a long, passionate kiss.

But if there’s a beginning, there’s also an end. Stephen and Jane’s story is one of star-crossed lovers who defy all odds. Stephen’s demise starts when his hand shakes as he scribbles math equations on a chalkboard. His gait’s wobbly and he falls in the Cambridge courtyard with his ears ringing.

Suddenly, there’s no music — only the pulsating sounds of a hospital room. The doctors diagnose him with motor neuron’s disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. He has two years to live.

If this summer’s ALS ice bucket challenge didn’t bring this terrible and crippling disease to light, Redmayne certain does as we watch him deteriorate. In one scene, he valiantly braves a grin as he struggles to eat peas — a task Stephen’s friends and colleagues accomplish effortlessly. In another scene, his twisted hands barely have enough power to pull himself up the stairs.

Redmayne’s feet are contorted and his body’s lopsided as he walks like a marionette with God pulling the strings. But Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in God. He believes in cosmology — that one singular equation will explain the universe. That reason, his everything — who explains how he continues to defy his doctor’s predictions, at least — is Jane.

There’s a quiet fierceness to Jones’ Jane. We watch her lips quiver as Stephen leans heavily on a croquet mallet. In another scene, she has trouble reading because she’s looking after Stephen and their kids. Jane possesses a blind and unwavering faith which helps her endure. It doesn’t hurt that she has the help of her church’s choir director, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (played by the handsome Charlie Cox).

The real star of “The Theory of Everything,” however, isn’t someone who appears on screen. Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson chronicles the magic, romance and tragedies of Anthony McCarten’s screenplay with his beautiful and original instrumental score. The curious ripples of a piano convey Stephen’s sense of discovery. A faint buzzing narrates his fall. Jóhannsson’s music is incredibly moving, rich and textured with the sad and soothing sounds of a violin and piano.

McCarten’s screenplay covers Stephen’s life over a 26-year time span: from 1963 until 1989 when Queen Elizabeth II named him a Companion of Honor. This avoids the public controversies during the later years: glossing over Jane and Stephen’s eventual divorce (1995) and his marriage to his nurse Elaine Mason (played by Maxine Peake in the film). It also makes the viewer feel gypped.

“The Theory of Everything” contains neither the comfort of everlasting love nor the knowledge of an omnipresent higher being looking out for us. (Stephen Hawking himself is an atheist.) Instead, the crescendos fade like the black hole’s of Hawking’s radiation theory — eventually fizzling out and dying. 

“The Theory of Everything” was directed by James Marsh and written by Anthony McCarten.

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One thought on “The man and woman behind ‘The Theory of Everything’

  1. Pingback: The je ne sais quoi of ‘Still Alice’ | Pass the Popcorn

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