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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.