“However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
Almost a quarter if a century ago, groundbreaking documentarian Errol Morris made A Brief History of Time. He told the parallel stories of the life of Stephen Hawking, and his most famous work, a book of the same name. When I watched Morris’ doc, I wrote, “It’s a great mix of hard science and almost biopic, with each side of the story always complimenting the other.” Now, it’s time to get the pure biopic side of things. The heart string pulling of relationships, hardships and melodrama, with very little science and an Oscar baiting performance so amazing, the term “Oscar baiting” is way too dismissive. It’s time for The Theory of Everything.
It’s the 60s at England’s prestigious Cambridge University. A promising but cavalier young physics student named Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is more interesting in chasing tail than he is in finishing his PHD. But thanks to two people, he gets both. After meeting Jane (Felicity Jones) at a uni booze up, he’s immediately infatuated. While in the classroom, teacher and mentor Dennis (David Thewlis) gives him the boot in the ass he needs to finish his revolutionary PHD thesis on the nature of black holes. But this is a biopic, so he can’t just get what he wants, he’s gonna need a major setback of some description. And does Steven Hawking ever cop a major setback.
Diagnosed in his early 20s with motor neurons disease and given just two years to live, Hawking grabs life by the balls, marries Jane and starts working on bigger, more revolutionary theories on ideas on physics. As the disease takes hold, his body shuts down limb by limb, muscle by muscle, until he’s confined to a wheelchair, barley able to move enough even to talk. All the while, he builds a family with Jane and continues to revolutionise science.
Thanks to A Brief History of Time, I already knew this story, but that didn’t stop me enjoying The Theory of Anything in any way. I said that in A Brief History, “Morris also manages to tell Hawking’s story without it ever sounding like self help, manufactured, inspirational schmaltz.” Here, The Theory of Everything kind of does go for that inspiration schmaltz, but Eddie Redmayne’s performance and physical transformation are so amazing and convincing, that it’s inspirational schmaltz of the highest order.
Redmayne has got a lot of deserved attention for this movie and I assume is guaranteed and Oscar nomination for Best Actor. I haven’t seen many other of the tipped favourite male performances yet (except for the infuriatingly overrated Timothy Spall in Mr Turner), but I can’t imagine anyone else giving a performance as impressive as Redmayne. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best, but it’s one I won’t forget anytime soon.
After A Brief History of Time, I wrote, “I don’t think I’m any smarter for having seen A Brief History of Time, but I do feel like I know more about someone who it’s worth knowing more about, and about his contributions to the world.” The Theory of Everything is a great companion piece to the Morris’ documentary. It might get a little fluffier with its depiction of the man, but it’s a story worth telling in the cold light of a doc, or with a little Hollywood fluff.
Also, ironically since I‘ve talked so much about A Brief History of Time, it’s also the first narrative movie I have seen from director James Marsh. Until now, I had only seen his documentaries Man on Wire and Project Nim. I knew he was a great documentarian, now I know he’s a great director in general.