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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Theory of Everything | Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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The Theory of Everything | Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson | Review

There was a time when famed theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen J. Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) walked the earth.  He also rode bikes, tackled stairs, ran down long hallways, and danced.  Then he turned 21.

With a devastating diagnosis of motor neuron disease, a prognosis of two years to live, and the devoted determination of girlfriend-turned-wife Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) Hawking perseveres in his studies and in his extraordinary life.  One doctoral degree, three children, nearly a dozen books, and countless revolutionary contributions to the fields of cosmology, general relativity and quantum gravity later, Hawking’s story is an interwoven patchwork of triumph and challenge.

Motor neuron disease (aka ALS) is a progressive neurological disorder that destroys the part of the brain that has to do with voluntary movement; muscles weaken and waste.  The intellectual brain stays operational, noting with a cruel clarity what is happening to the body in which it is trapped.

Director James Marsh (Man on a Wire) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (Death of a Superhero) bring the story of Hawking’s first marriage and early career to the big screen, with a story based Wilde’s memoir Travelling to Infinity – My Life with Stephen.  In the film, Hawking muses about the “mathematical probability of happiness” in the couple’s situation.

From their 1963 pre-doctoral courtship at Cambridge University, Stephen and Jane’s heartbreaking, bittersweet, and challenging journey is chronicled in a way that’s sometimes painful to watch, let alone imagine what it must have been like to live through.

The pair was a study in opposites.  The atheist scientist and the Christian scholar in Spanish Medieval poetry forged a life together that highlighted what journalist Tim Adams called in a 2004 interview with Jane Wilde, “the extraordinary ways in which their dreams went right and wrong.”

The disease progresses, as does the equipment and technology, from one cane to two, from manual wheelchair to motorized, and finally, to a means of communication through facial movements that lead to transcription and an artificial voice to restore his own, taken by emergency tracheotomy.
 
Hawking’s work progresses, catapulting him into world renown as a professor, lecturer, and author.  Meanwhile Jane, a Ph.D. in her own right, allows her professional goals to languish, becoming increasingly overwhelmed by unending duties as her husband’s sole caretaker, and those of the couple’s two children (a third would come along in time).

Her mother Beryl (Emily Watson) suggests joining a choir, the head of which, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox) eventually assumes the daunting task of Hawking’s care.  A variety of emotions ebb and flow from the couple, complicated even further by the arrival of nurse Elaine Mason.

To make the film sound like a soap opera is to do it a great disservice.  Under Marsh’s skillful direction there are scenes that take on dream-like, magical qualities, whether by imagination, slow motion, or musical interlude.  It is not a sad film, but rather a celebration of one man’s transcendence over physical limitations, not merely to survive, but excel.  Hawking’s success is also Jane’s.
 
His bestowal by the Queen of England of a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) late in the film, followed by a poignant rewind of his personal journey is a fitting testament to a life that still goes on, fifty years after it was supposed to end.

Rigorous physical and vocal requirements aside, Redmayne’s portrayal is luminous, his eyes conveying nuances of pain and joy – his own form of Hawking radiation.  He remains inordinately boyish for the majority of the film.  

Jones, as the long-suffering, devoted-but-overwhelmed Jane, also does not seem to age, a distracting but slight flaw in otherwise Oscar-worthy performances.

The Theory of Everything offers up a rare glimpse of Hawking’s origins and a window into his early life with an equally remarkable woman, a fusion of science and poetry, of love and frustration, and ultimately, of hope.

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