The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything serves as a fitting reminder that beyond the extraordinary maths lies a man.
February 02, 2015
Stephen Hawking is an extraordinary individual. The problem with that — with all extraordinary individuals — is that over time they come to be viewed not as people but as the sum of their accomplishments. The greater the endeavour, the less we tend to know about the beating heart and restless mind behind it. Often it's not until they're visited by tragedy or professional disgrace that we're reminded of their humanity, and yet, in Hawking's case, not even the onset of motor neurone disease or an extramarital affair could detract from his almost super-human status. The Theory of Everything, then, serves as a fitting reminder that beyond the maths lies a man, brilliant — yes — but still just a man: mortal, flawed and confounded by love.
Adapted from the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, The Theory of Everything offers us a portrait of Hawking from the perspective of his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), and it is, in effect, a love story. Two love stories, rather: the conventional tale between a pair of enamoured Cambridge students, and the stranger yet better known one of Stephen’s infatuation with the universe. Both are heartwarming, exhilarating and profoundly complicated.
In the role of Hawking’s wife, Jones is sublime. Her performance is an accomplished blend of fierce determination to see her husband survive, and private frustration at the professional sacrifices that selflessness wrought.
As for Redmayne, perhaps the most fitting compliment is that it is now impossible to look at him and not see the professor. It is an extraordinary example of transformation, both physical and performative. Redmayne, like the man he portrays, is robbed of that which most actors find essential: movement, first, then sound. Yes, there is the iconic digital voice to accompany the performance, but voiceover is no more useful to an actor at the time of recording than a ping pong ball affixed to a green screen to denote what will eventually come to be. With the disarming smile of Redford and the ‘everyman-ness’ of Hanks, Redmayne is the acting equivalent of an unputdownable book, almost daring you to try to look away.
For a film entitled The Theory of Everything, the story is, in the end, almost infinitesimal. Ours is a galaxy of some 400 billion stars in a universe roughly 13.8 billion years old. On such a scale, humanity is scarcely perceptible, an insignificant evanescent blip of history in which a single, unsettled romance between two people is as close to nothing as science will permit. And yet it is also everything, because it contains within it some of the finest qualities that define the human existence — that showcase the unconquerable spirit and boundless possibilities of the mind.
Hawking’s accomplishments almost defy belief, even if they’d been achieved without disability, and while they’re acknowledged in this film, the focus is not on the ‘what’, but the ‘who’ and the ‘how’. Moving, astounding and, perhaps most of all, enlightening, The Theory of Everything is a sensitive yet unsentimental engagement with genius and the actualities of love.
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