Stephen Hawking is about as remarkable as human beings get. Not only is he one of the most brilliant scientists who has ever lived, but he has done his greatest work while battling a dreaded and debilitating disease.
Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in the 1960s, Hawking has outlived even his most optimistic prognosis by decades and has become an icon in the scientific community.
It’s actually a little surprising it has taken this long to make a movie about him. In “The Theory of Everything,” Hawking is played by the talented young actor Eddie Redmayne, who committedly dives right into a role that marks Hawking’s transformation from a socially awkward, youthful genius to a middle-aged, wheelchair-bound man who is only able to communicate through a computerized voice program.
This is the stuff Academy Awards are made of. But while Redmayne is unquestionably superb, he gives the second-best performance in the movie.
Felicity Jones plays Jane Hawking, the wife who sees Stephen through his initial diagnosis to the height of his success and disability. Jones is amazing in what is truly a thankless role.
Right from the beginning, Stephen and Jane seemed to be mismatched as he is a wry atheist and she is a deeply religious, liberal-arts major. But Jane is smitten and refuses to be pushed away after Stephen receives his grim diagnosis.
But the strain of raising three children and caring for Stephen takes its toll on Jane and Jones wears every bit of this dutiful weight right on her face.
Even when widower Jonathan (Charlie Cox) enters the picture as a family friend/caregiver and threatens to turn the proceedings into a soapy melodrama, Jane’s devotion to a marriage that is pulling her under both physically and psychologically is something beautifully heartbreaking to behold.
Redmayne deserves a lot of credit for precisely and completely getting to the physical truth of his character, but Jones deserves even more credit for getting to the soul of hers.
I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a shock Jane winds up being the focus of the story in the movie’s second half since the screenplay was adapted by Anthony McCarten from the real Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.”
Director James Marsh, who is best known for documentaries like “Man on Wire,” keeps an even tone throughout and shows the rocky patches in their marriage have just as much to do with Stephen’s brilliance as it does with his disability.
In many ways, “The Theory of Everything” is a celebration of life in all of its beauty and sadness. This is underscored by the fantastic, melodic score by Johann Johannsson and the soft, shimmering cinematography of Benoit Delhomme.
The movie does drag in patches and even threatens to go off the rails a time or two, but Redmayne keeps the proceedings bolted to the floor while Jones pushes them to greater heights. It is a perfect pairing and it’s what holds this delicate, thoughtful little movie together.
“The Theory of Everything” is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.