Not quite everything
“The Theory of Everything” is a beautiful and well-acted film sure to garner award nominations for its moving portrayal of renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking and his relationship with his incredibly accommodating wife. Director James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) chooses to focus less on Hawking’s brilliance and pioneering work as a theoretical physicist and successful author and more on his marriage to first wife Jane Wilde, whom he met while a student at Cambridge University in the 1960s. This allows for terrific performances by both leads—Eddie Redmayne (Marius in “Les Miserables”) and Felicity Jones (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”)—both of which are penetrating and gently nuanced.
But the film, which opens locally next week, only skims the surface of Hawking’s career and leaves audiences wondering why his first marriage fell apart. It may be nitpicking to ask a film to fill in more of the difficult details in light of the care and concern given to the source material, as well as the wondrously beautiful cinematography on display. (The film is based on the memoir “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” by Jane Hawking.)
Part of the problem is that Hawking’s incredible accomplishments themselves demand a thorough biography or at least a compelling documentary. Diagnosed with ALS-influenced motor-neuron disease as a 21-year-old college student, Hawking was left almost completely paralyzed and eventually lost his voice as the result of a life-saving tracheotomy. He still became a leading scientist in the areas of relativity and quantum mechanics with important work involving both the Big Bang Theory and black holes. Incredibly, Jane married Stephen even when doctors gave him only two years to live. The film gives us glimpses of Jane’s sacrifices over many years including the difficulties of raising the couple’s three children.
It’s not a surprise that the film views Hawking’s world through the lens of Jane’s life, but there is little evidence of her struggles or details about the children. Interestingly, Jane receives domestic help from church choir director Jonathan Hellyer Jones (played sensitively by Charlie Cox), apparently with Stephen’s blessing, and the two labor to suppress their romantic feelings for each other.
Hawking is certainly a complex individual, and he wasn’t always kind to those around him. As a result, Jane’s devotion was tested time and time again. That makes “The Theory of Everything” a sympathetic story since it leaves unturned most of those ugly stones. But if you don’t inspect this film too closely, it’s easy to appreciate the brilliant performances and this film’s obvious affection for its characters.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive material.