The Theory of Everything review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There are some lives that are extraordinary enough to warrant a biography picture. Stephen Hawking is certainly a man worthy of such attention for all his many contributions to the scientific community. Looking back on his life, he also had enough struggles to warrant a dramatic story. But rather than dig deeper into the man to learn more about his accomplishments and plights, The Theory of Everything merely presents Hawking’s life in heart-tugging nuggets rather than an engrossing narrative.
The movie begins during Hawking’s college days as a plucky student with ambitious ideas and his eye on a girl. When he isn’t burying his nose in books and chalkboards, he takes his girlfriend out for thought-provoking conversations and goofing off at the fair. Everything appears to be coming up Stephen until his dreaded neurological disease takes hold of his life. Initially given two years to live after the unfortunate discovery, he secludes himself and gives up on his research, but his wife pushes him forward. The more his body fails over the months, the more he becomes driven to make his mark. His life proved to not only extend far past the expected point, but managed to be a very fruitful and joyous experience.
Rather than take the angle of focusing on one area, The Theory of Everything wants to be all encompassing. It wants to present Stephen’s controversial theories and ideas as seen through his eyes by giving a glimpse of his brain’s eureka moments. It wants to showcase his family life that appears to have survived quite well in the face of his disability and his affairs. It wants us to feel all the pain of the neurological disease that cripples him so.
But by presenting all of this in a two hour movie, we don’t get a chance to explore much of anything. Hawking presents his theory to the board who promptly give him a PHD. Not long after, we whip away to him struggling up the stairs on his own. And before you can even see the anguish on his face, we’re already on to Hawking’s wife growing irritated with his care. No time to harp on that! It’s time to watch Hawking play with his kids while the music swells and the picture goes glossy.
The only aspect pushing this production past the realm of a made-for-TV movie is the noteworthy performances, tailor made for an Academy Award. The role of an aging Stephen Hawking could have easily gone the wrong way, but Eddie Redmayne is able to bring just the right amount of character. If he went too far with the disease, it would be inappropriate. If he did too little, it would be seen as a worthless performance. Redmayne nails his subject with an uncanny level of perfection which will hopefully prevent Lifetime from taking a whack at making a Stephen Hawking TV movie.
What may be most irritating about this film is its avoidance of any developing drama. The divorce Stephen has with his first wife is left entirely too subtle and innocuous as if it were nothing. Even more glazed over is how he develops his new relationship with his nurse. We see these scenes setup, receive the key event and then rush over to the next before the first one can develop. There’s a certain cowardice in such direction that just doesn’t want to dig deep in the guts of the subject.
After viewing this picture, Stephen Hawking remarked how much he enjoyed seeing the movie. It’s easy enough to see why with one of the final scenes featuring Hawking and his ex-wife watching their approaching children from a distance. Hawking motions towards them and types into his text-to-speech computer “look what we made.” It’s a favorable love letter to the man of science, but cleaned and polished up for an audience to receive just the headlines and just the tears. The harder truths and far more interesting scenes are lost between the cracks of a mostly celebratory piece.