Stephen Hawking is this century’s resident genius. His work with theoretical physics inspires legions of scientists to put down their medical school applications and work on solving the mysteries of the universe, and yet most know him solely for his robotic, artificial voice. Featured in The Simpsons, popularized by the media, and even portrayed in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Stephen Hawking’s robotic element is now an iconic symbol of his disability and genius. Interestingly enough, Hawking’s affliction with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has rarely been viewed in the context of his early life. The brilliance of the man, his awkward romance with Jane Wilde Hawking, and the struggle to find his purpose for life—these are the all-encompassing elements that drive “The Theory of Everything,” a biographical dramatic thriller releasing in theaters on Dec. 10.
“The Theory of Everything” initially comes across as a rather simplistic film about Hawking’s work with physics and his degeneration due to motor neuron disease, but it proves to be much more than that in the end. Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is initially portrayed as a man on a quest to discover a single unifying theory to explain the universe. He then meets Jane (Felicity Jones) who becomes his love interest and suddenly finds out that he has only two years to live because of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Soon afterwards, Hawking’s struggle to maintain his romance with Jane while working on his black hole theory becomes the focus of the film. However, “The Theory of Everything” does not come across as a romantic film because the focus is, remarkably, not on Hawking’s love for Jane, but rather on the scientific drive that gives Hawking the strength to continue on living despite his disease.
Director James Marsh does an excellent job of using contemporary settings to give the film a feeling of authenticity. Some parts of the film are similar to “A Beautiful Mind,” which also features the point of view of a reclusive genius with schizophrenia in search of a breakthrough; the audience is also able to see the world of “The Theory of Everything” through the glasses of Stephen Hawking. The moving musical compositions that accompany every major turning point in Hawking’s life make even the seemingly bland moments colorful and vibrant. Indeed, a soundtrack that blends so perfectly with the acting is rare, and Jóhann Jóhannsson must be commended for his work on the music.
“The Theory of Everything” takes the audiences’ expectations of Hawking’s life and virtually overturns them. Unlike the several attempts to chronicle Hawking’s life in the past, it seems that “The Theory of Everything” took them and blended them in a curiously picturesque depiction of Hawking’s ascetic life at Cambridge in the 1960s. Although questionable in validity, it is claimed that upon a screening of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, a nurse had wiped a tear from Hawking’s cheek. Indeed, this representation, as well as the support from Hawking’s family, gives “The Theory of Everything,” a certain reputation—if not prestige—that other attempts to biography Hawking’s life do not have.
“The Theory of Everything” will certainly be a grand display of biographical work and storytelling in the decades to come. Hawking is portrayed magnificently by Redmayne in his most human form, and even the mind-boggling concept of a “theory of everything” is astutely described in the film. First a cosmologist, second a husband and third a man—Hawking is so brilliantly and boldly presented by Marsh that “The Theory of Everything” will undoubtedly be a critical success. Whether you wish to witness the formative years of Stephen Hawking while feeling the same frustration Hawking did when he learned of the time he had left to live, or simply wind back the clock to see life at Cambridge in the 1960s, “The Theory of Everything” is a perfect film to experience Hawking’s life. For those of you unacquainted with the genius of Stephen Hawking, I encourage you to, at this point in time and space, observe this masterpiece.