Movie Review: ‘The Theory of Everything’ Excels at Simplifying the Complex

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Bill Graham // Film Critic

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING | 123 min. | Rated PG-13 | Director: James Marsh | Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity JonesCharlie Cox, Harry Lloyd, Tom PriorAlice Orr-EwingSimon McBurneyChristian McKay, Emily Watson and David Thewlis

James Marsh’s THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is a heartbreaking biopic and simultaneous celebration of what it means to have a disabling illness yet persevere and do extraordinary things. Following theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, the film is anchored by two extraordinary performances from Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) and Felicity Jones (Jane Hawking). But it’s also about the power of true love. Many hours could be dedicated to the theories that Hawking has given us and yet the film manages to do more than just glaze over this information. Instead, Marsh gives us enough detail to both understand and ignite our own curiosity. In that way, it does Hawking proud.

For those unfamiliar with Hawking’s life, he wasn’t always paralyzed. Instead, he lived his younger years with a lot of vivacious activity. He was a known slacker but he was always trying to ignite his passion. Hawking found it when he was in college, and that’s where we catch up to him to start our story. It’s an intelligent place to start this film that is just a touch over 2 hours, because it gives him to us at the point where his life would rapidly change. In quick succession, he met Jane, he found his passion, and he also started to degenerate muscularly due to ALS.

Also, check out our interview with Eddie Redmayne here.

Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) and Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables) play Jane and Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) and Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables) play Jane and Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

There are hints at first of his condition. Almost too much so, but the real life accounts likely back it up. After all, this is inspired by the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, whom screenwriter Anthony McCarten tirelessly pursued to get her permission. That’s because as much as this is a film about Stephen, it is also about their journey together, and much of it takes place from her perspective.

And that’s where the film revolves most heavily. Indeed, Jones and Redmayne practically sparkle on screen. They have a charm as two lovers that fall for each other despite coming from very different backgrounds and interests that resonates. And while the film has to move quickly through their initial meetup, once Hawking’s body starts to degenerate we end up with her as his translator at times. It’s beautiful to witness and encapsulates a lot of what their relationship was like at the time.

As wonderful as the love story at the center of the film is, the mathematics that are shown aren’t treated as a minor character. The froth from a pint of beer, the coals of a fire, or simply peas and potatoes at a dinner table all become objects to explain these complex theorems of astrophysics and it simply works. Shockingly so. But it’s all part of the charm of the film.

In the hands of a lesser screenwriter and/or director, this could have turned into a very sad tale. Instead, despite Hawking’s degenerative illness, there are moments of outright hilarity even when he is fully enveloped by ALS. Hawking, to this day, remains a very humorous man and it shows in the film. If anything, his quick wit and charm are highlighted because of his condition and THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING ends up being quite inspirational of the persistence of the human mind and personality.

Felicity Jones, Stephen Hawking, and Eddie Redmayne. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Felicity Jones, Stephen Hawking, and Eddie Redmayne. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

And let’s not forget the incredible journey that Redmayne goes through as the film progresses. To have a healthy, young actor portray someone who starts the film as lively and ends curled up into a chair over the course of several decades is no small feat. Makeup artist Jan Sewell does remarkably subtle work that never feels out of place and transitions over the course of time with tricks of the trade. By the end you not only see Redmayne as Hawking, you become used to the appearance and are able to relax into the story.

Marsh likely won’t get the credit he deserves for his balancing-act of three very difficult themes that could each end up being their own film. Yet, with the help of McCarten, Marsh is able to tell a remarkable story that never feels rushed or hampered by time. Ultimately, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING never seems to overreach and instead finds a beautiful simplicity in this remarkably true story.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.