I woke up this morning complaining about how sore my legs were after having been ice skating last night, and then I saw James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything, the recently announced four-time Golden Globe nominee. Everything recounts a portion of the life of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), from his time at Cambridge in the early ’60’s (where he met his wife, Jane [Felicity Jones]) to the late ’80’s, meaning the audience gets to witness his motor neuron disease diagnosis and see him age for approximately twenty years. This film put my ice skating aches into perspective, but what could have been incredibly inspiring, simply put, tried too hard. I left overwhelmed with so many negative thoughts and questions. First, the the negative thoughts.
The film begins with blurry shots from a scene shown fully towards the end of the film (Why, Marsh, why?) but then immediately depicts the awkward first interaction of Stephen and Jane. Jane makes the first move, slipping him her number; Stephen then stalks her outside of church and brings her to his family’s house for lunch. We arguably see two legitimate dates, and suddenly Jane is in love and fully dedicated to caring for Stephen, who has just been told he has two years to live. I needed at least one more romantic moment between the two of them to fall for that. Then, in a series of cheesy, “home footage” clips complete with the grainy overlay, we see Jane and Stephen’s wedding, they have two children. Stephen gets his doctorate, and Jane’s trendy hair styles show the passing of time. Had the film focused solely on this love story or on Hawking’s work (and not simply showing chalkboard scribbles), it could’ve been powerful. Unfortunately, it wanted to be a pretty film, too, and the cinematography is overdone to the point of distraction. When Stephen is talking about black holes, suddenly a spiral staircase is shot like the swirling images in his mind (whoa, get it?!). We don’t need a tilted shot of the ocean or any fade-to-blacks. There’s no need to employ a fisheye lens or tint an entire scene blue. Even the score can be pretentious– take, for example, a scene in which Stephen is taken out of an orchestra performance via stretcher. The music does not need to crescendo as the frame zooms close to his face. We get it; it’s not looking good for Stephen.
All this being said, Redmayne is phenomenal. It’s a performance that makes one forget it’s a performance at all, and in the most subtle ways. It’s the way he curves his lips and twitches his eye, the quick smile and slow tears. You believe all of it. Meanwhile, Jones too is subtle, though with the melodramatic details surrounding her, the performance seems underwhelming.
Now, some questions. We see Jane and Stephen’s first two children for a while (including a moment in which baby Robert is left roaming upstairs during a dinner party but don’t worry, the baby gate is blocking the stairs so he’s okay, right?), but then a third is born and all three disappear. Where do they go? Are they alright? But wait, when it’s time to meet the Queen, of course they’re available. Now, one excuse could be that the children were sent to boarding school, which is rational to think, though after the third kid is born, Stephen’s father suggests the family hire a full-time nurse, to which Stephen says he is broke and “not a rockstar.” How were Stephen and Jane making money at all? Of course Stephen was working on his academia, but we don’t see Jane in a paying job. If this were a romantic comedy or a crime drama, I wouldn’t ask questions, but this is a biopic so yes, I want to know where the money comes from, how they had several cars and a variety of bed sheets throughout the film, and where the children went. Also, were see-through gloves really a thing? And when Jane is with wavy-haired Jonathan (Charlie Cox) her hair becomes wavy. Coincidence?
It’s hard to watch a film about a person who is still alive, and the end of Everything seems to glorify Stephen Hawking to a point that is uncomfortable. He gives a brief speech to a classroom filled with comedically dressed 80’s folks that ends with “While there is life, there is hope,” he meets the Queen, and then the credits roll. You may feel like that is too much, as I did. But then, the credits are revealed over images of the universe (think the cover of a science textbook), and at the very end of that, Hawking’s silhouette is superimposed over the universe. Yes. Way too much. I laughed, and that wasn’t necessarily appropriate but I was so caught off guard. If you want a beautiful film, or an inspiring one, watch something else. But if you’re looking for a bizarre attempt to Frankenstein the two, see The Theory of Everything. If nothing else, you can check off another film you’ve seen this awards season.