I have an irrational dislike for some people: and two of them are involved in The Theory of Everything. One is Stephen Hawking. I know he is great man with a brilliant mind, but he does grate sometimes. The second is Eddie Redmayne; again I can appreciate he is a fine actor, but there is just something… about his face? Oddly, they both make my skin crawl in a similar way, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. That the latter should play the former made perfect sense to me. There is an uncanny resemblance, not just in physical appearance but in aura.
The Life Scientific
The Theory of Everything is Hawking’s biopic, directed by James Marsh (best known as the documentarian behind Man On Wire), told through the particular lens of his relationship with his first wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones). We see their early courtship in Cambridge, Hawking’s diagnosis with motor neurone disease, Jane’s brave decision to marry him, and Jane and Stephen’s building of families and careers. Everyone knows Stephen Hawking’s amazing story; his image alone, shining triumphantly in his wheelchair on a university stage, is a huge inspiration to many.
So yes, I give it to Redmayne; his performance as Hawking is astonishingly realistic. Physically speaking, he looks so much like Hawking it is hard to believe they are not related. Better yet, the persona projected is exactly right, and I have discovered what trait they share. Both Hawking and Redmayne have a kind of boyishness about them, a sense of humour born from the uproarious halls of privileged boys’ schools. They both have that cheeky grin that probably pleased their rambunctious housemates to no end. Hawking twinkles from his chair with it, and Redmayne mimics. Hawking can’t help make a joke whenever he talks, and Redmayne from interviews is exactly the same, and their jokes are always corny. The kind of laughing of the over privilege, a schoolboy humour; as an example there is a running gag about a Penthouse magazine subscription, which Hawking/Redmayne winks about while I think, “Oh dear, casual misogyny”. Posh boy joie de vivre pervades both Redmayne and Hawking’s psyche, and yes, it irks me.
Tugs at the Heart Strings
Having said that, The Theory of Everything left me more emotionally affected than any other film in the last year. Its direction was conventional, with no flashes of visual originality, but the story itself is so beautiful and the perspective taken so wise. The filmmakers keep claiming that this is as much Jane’s story as it was Stephen’s, and I truly believe it is. Had the story been adapted from Stephen’s perspective and not Jane’s I think it would have been much more inconsequential. The real story here is not about a great man but a great love. It starts off like any typical love story fairy tale and moves towards something much more jaded and real. It is a description of how romantic love changes, dies and multiplies.
And the Oscar Should Go to…. Felicity Jones
Felicity Jones’ portrayal of Jane’s seeming brittleness but hidden strength is the true wonder of this film, but subtler performances are not often rewarded by academies. The film pitches the two protagonist lovers as opposites, the scientist and the arts student, the atheist and the believer, and roughly ends with us noticing that the two polar opposites that we so often posit as a modern warfare is illusory. There is much in common between the authentic believer and skeptic. At the centres of their lives are the search for truth. Stephen Hawking’s science would have gone nowhere without the steady support of Jane’s faith. Without her, he probably would have died uncared for, his ideas unknown. It was her hope that carried (literally) him to where he is today, and I hope she received a large financial settlement!
The Theory of Everything is showing in Ayala Center Cebu this weekend February 27- March 1, 2015.