‘Theory’ of the Human Heart
If I could remember the last time I cried at a movie, it would have been nothing compared to the tragically honest portrayal that director James Marsh concocted in “The Theory of Everything.” The story centers on Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), from the first bud of their romance at college and through the painful, intimate years of their marriage. Redmayne undergoes a superb transformation into Hawking –– a brilliant, funny, yet awkward young physicist who is suddenly faced with his own mortality when diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. While the disease deteriorates his muscle control, Hawking’s mind remains intact and he continues to transcend extraordinary barriers to pursue his intellectual goal: find an elegant, simple theory of the universe.
Although Redmayne is quickly confined to slurred speech and limited motion, he still expertly delivers the heart and soul of Hawking as he struggles and lives with the disease, delivered largely through a sly smile or a heartbreaking look at his wife. One of his more potent quips in the film is when he is “trying to work out the mathematical probability of happiness,” as we all are, in our own way.
While Redmayne would appear to be the bright star the movie shines around, it is actually Jones’ portrayal that creates a true emphatic bond with the audience. She holds him, their family and lastly herself together through years of determination and sacrifice. When she tells Stephen, “I did my best,” there is no doubt in anyone’s mind of that. Jones gives brutal honesty, weakness and love to the character and it is astonishing to witness.
The movie begins its focus on Stephen at Cambridge University, writing his thesis and simultaneously coping with his new diagnosis. Once we leave Cambridge, however, the focus switches to his wife and how she holds the world together for them. The transition of narrative gives a holistic view into their marriage and even though the audience roots for them to defy all odds, a natural human weakness creeps in –– she can’t, in fact, hold the world together, and Redmayne’s loving smile lets the audience know that it’s okay that she can’t.
To accompany the riveting performances, director James Marsh uses exquisite shots of nature to remind us all that it is in fact the entire point of the couple’s work. From watching Jane cry amid vibrantly green trees, to seeing Stephen be inspired by a glowing ember that, in his eyes, transforms into a massive star, we all remember that despite their hardships, the world and universe at large is an incredibly beautiful and inspiring place.
As mentioned earlier, this film may require a box of tissues, or perhaps a thicker skin than mine to watch. As brilliant and heartfelt as the movie is, it is also raw and tragic. The close-ups on Stephen and Jane let us closely experience their lives, leaving nothing to hide in their marriage. While it can be a bit surreal to see so much passion for life accompanied by such real barriers, it is overall inspiring and magnificent to be a part of.
RECOMMENDED: Be prepared to wipe more than a few tears away from the powerful humility and love between Stephen and Jane Hawking.