Theory of Everything: Hawking’s Biopic Starring Redmayne and Felicity Jones

“The Theory of Everything,” directed by James Marsh, is a valiant, if not entirely successful effort to capture the genius of the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, considered to be  one of the world’s greatest living minds.

Marsh comes from the field of documentary—he won the Oscar for his riveting feature “Man on Wire”—and so one expects a rigorous film with the utmost attention to detail, which “Theory of Everything” certainly is.

What is unexpected (and a bit disappointing) is Marsh’s making a rather conventional, if not sentimental biopic, probably motivated by the wish to appeal to audiences that don’t know anything about physics—or science.

End result is a thematically accessible, easily digestible movie that flattens out some crucial events in Hawking’s life and avoids taking risks in telling an extraordinary story of a man who has survived against all odds.

Inevitable comparisons will be made to the subgenre of biopics about geniuses in the arts and sciences who were physically disabled and/or mentally challenged. While “The Theory of Everything” is a better picture than “A Beautiful Mind,” which was conventional and sentimental, it lacks the raw emotionalism and powerful ideas that a film “like My Left Foot” had.  As is well known, the aforementioned  films were well received by critics, winning Oscars for Best Picture (“A Beautiful Mind” in 2001) and Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot” in 1989).

Superlative acting by Eddie Redmayne in the lead, and especially Felicity Jones as his wife, Jane Wilde, positions “The Theory of Everything” as a prestige picture for discerning arthouse viewers, perhaps even an Oscar contender in major categories.

Based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by Jane Hawking, the screenplay, penned by(who is also a producer), is episodic by necessity and drmatically uneven.

Spanning exactly half a century, from 1963, when Hawking was 21, to the present, “Theory of Everything” is an intimate epic tale, which tries to balance brilliant professional careers with tumultuous personal and marital lives by dwelling on turing points in both spheres.

In 1963, Stephen is an ambitious cosmology student at Cambridg, determined to find a “simple, eloquent explanation” for the universe.  His private world opens up when he falls deeply in love with an arts major, fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones).  Unfortunately, the healthy an dynamic student, who is only 21, is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease that attack and damage his limbs and his abilities, leaving him with limited speech and movement. He is told by his doctor that he has about two years to live.

The couple marries, based on Jane’s unconditional love, fierce support, and determination to help her husband. With his wife fighting tirelessly by his side, Stephen refuses to accept his diagnosis. Jane encourages Stephen to finish his doctorate, which includes his initial theory of the creation of the universe.

Moreover, they start a family, and with his newly earned and widely hailed doctorate Stephen embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the most precious element—time itself. Remarkably, while his body faces more limits, his mind continues to explore the outer limits of theoretical physics.

Jointly, Stephen and Jane defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science, and achieving more than they, their mentors and colleagues, and their doctors could ever have hoped for or dreamed about.