Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’s powerfully understated performances drive James Marsh’s new film, The Theory of Everything, a film based on the relationship between world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). As Marsh did with the documentary Man on Wire, he plays this film slowly. There are few montages throughout, which seem to be a staple to show the evolution of personality in a standard biopic. Instead, we see one shortly after Hawking is diagnosed with ALS, a motor neuron disease, that is predicted to kill him in no more than two years, that fast-forwards his and Jane’s wedding and the birth of their first child. And we see another, this time in reverse, at the end of the film that posits whether or not Hawking has found an equation into which everything fits.
The slow play of the narrative truly allows the characters to develop, which prevents this film from becoming a showcase in how awful Hawking’s affliction is. Instead, in the beginning of the film, we see subtle ticks that will ultimately become his crippling condition. Within a half hour, Hawking is primarily relegated to a chair and has limited mobility. In turn, the rapidness that Marsh employs allows the focus of the settle on the relationship between Hawking and Jane, not the evolution of his disease. There are certainly painful moments to witness, as we see Hawking paralleled with his infant children, and Jane tasked to clean and clean up after each one. The humiliation he feels is palatable as he stares at her with apologetic eyes, unable to bring himself to verbally acknowledge that his body is treasonous to himself.
However, the remainder of the film centers on Jane as the lynchpin to Hawking’s success as a physicist. She is his caregiver, the mother of his children, and the one that allows him to flourish. Of course, there she has moments of temptation, ones that Hawking recognizes; he has moments of jealousy, ones that Jane understands, and they both have moments open to castigation.
However, The Theory of Everything, treats both of them with a kind gaze, choosing to criticize neither one of them. Throughout their divorce, feelings are briefly hurt, but the process takes place off screen, and a title card at the end of the film notes that they “remain close friends.” While this initially felt sappy and saccharine, there’s a beauty in the way that the film attempts to posit its own theory of everything: interactions are about survival.
While this feels a bit trite, and this film – at the very end – does resort to the all-too-familiar biopic ethos that the human spirit will prevail against all odds, there’s a sweetness in the thoughts that our constant evolution won’t end in absolute failure.