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Film Review

‘The Theory of Everything’

12/3/2014

The Theory of EverythingTheory of Everything

Rated PG-13

123 Minutes

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones and Charlie Cox 

I encourage people to see as many Academy Award winners as possible in theaters. It is for that reason that I am telling you to go see “The Theory of Everything,” because Eddie Redmayne is going to win the Best Actor award.

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“The Theory of Everything” is the biographical account of the life and times of physicist Stephen Hawking. The film picks up Hawking’s story in 1963 when he’s a newly-minted Ph.D. hopeful at Cambridge University and follows him through the publication of his first book, “A Brief History of Time.”

But, of course, the most captivating aspect of the film — and Redmayne’s performance — is watching Hawking’s body succumb to the slow ravages of the motor neuron disease that has left him almost completely paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.

Redmayne does a magnificent job with the translation of Hawking to film. In the film’s first quarter, when Hawking is leading a more or less normal life, Redmayne plays him with a subdued charm and wry wit. But the true genius of the performance comes to light after Hawking loses his voice and most of his motor function, leaving Redmayne with just his eyes, mouth and the barest of facial movements with which to convey all of his emotion for the rest of the film. It is beautiful to watch and easily the most engrossing physical performance since Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot.”

Director James Marsh has made the choice to put most of the focus on Hawking the man, rather than the world-renowned genius, and for good reason. Hawking’s theories are incredibly complicated, and to give them anything more than the barest of attention would have required a whole other film’s worth of back story and explanation. Instead we see the relationship develop between Hawking and his wife, Jane (played by Felicity Jones, and upon whose book the film is based). We watch the pair as they marry, raise three children and, ultimately, separate.

To this end, the film operates in broad strokes. We are spared most of the day-to-day hardships and frustrations inherent in Hawking’s increasingly difficult medical care. Marsh seems to feel that Hawking’s physical ailments are quite enough for one film and whitewashes almost all the rest of the difficulty out of Hawking’s life. When Jane begins to develop feelings for choirmaster and family friend, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), Marsh opts to focus on the positive aspects of the interaction while addressing none of the emotional conflicts inherent in any extra-marital affair.

If there is to be any complaint against the film, this is where it will lay. Hawking’s condition takes a huge toll on the family over the years but, aside from a few weary glances from Jane here and there, the audience is spared most of the struggle. We are repeatedly shown how Jane’s strength lifted Hawking through dark times, but are never fully shown that darkness and thus are given little sense of the moment. Even Hawking himself is not immune to the rose coloring here and there, as the script leaves little room to touch upon his legendary ego, opting instead to merely hint at his notorious brashness.

But, again, Redmayne’s performance wins out over any of the movie’s shortcomings. He gives himself completely to the role, and the effort is breathtaking to witness. Combined with Johann Johannsson’s gorgeous score and the crisp, uncluttered presentation of director of photography Benoit Delhomme, “The Theory of Everything” adds up to one of the most compelling and moving character studies of the decade. CV

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