On love and physics

New film chronicles a genius’ struggle


Courtesy IMDB

“The Theory of Everything” shows both Stephen Hawking’s genius and his struggle with ALS.

Winston Eng, Staff Reporter

I have not read “A Brief History of Time” nor do I consider myself a regular student of popular science.

However, chances are if you mention Stephen Hawking’s name in passing, images of stars, space and black holes will pop up in my mind at the thought of the celebrated astrophysicist.

I could tell you that he has a brilliant mind, one that has contributed much to the world of physics, including the generation of a cosmology relating some parts of general relativity and quantum mechanics. Perhaps I would mention his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) affliction, and how he required a tracheostomy to continue living and a speech generating device (a mere five words per minute) to allow communication following the operation.

I would fail, however, to mention how unbelievably heartbreaking it must have been when at age 21, this smooth-talking, first-rate intellectual who a few months before had wooed the girl of his dreams would have his world shattered by the diagnosis of a motor-neuron disease and a two-year life expectancy following suit.

This was the reality for Cambridge doctoral candidate in physics Stephen Hawking, whose story is portrayed in James Marsh’s recent biopic “The Theory of Everything.”

While I sought to celebrate a man who has no doubt defied all odds to not only survive but thrive, I could not find it within me to declare Marsh’s latest release as landing among the stars. For a man known for thinking in such inventive fashions, it is disheartening to witness Hawking’s story told in possibly the most conventionally safe way possible.

Admittedly, “The Theory of Everything” does not suffer from issues associated with addressing the doldrums of everyday existence. It’s a lovely narrative set within a well-constructed film; however, never is there an opportunity to delve deeper into the underbelly of the greater complexities related to Hawking’s life.

Yes, Marsh does touch on the most important moments of Hawking’s past; however, consistently, all related peoples seem to just be moving through the works, the scenes sometimes feel like checks on a checklist created to move the story forward, and the final product ends up being… just okay.

With that said, it is impossible to ignore the fact that “The Theory of Everything” is about the journey Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane (Felicity Jones) take together despite the consistent setbacks they face.

Redmayne’s performance as Stephen extends far past any expectations I had about portraying such a truly daunting personality, and to call such acting impressive would be putting it lightly. The attention to detail especially in relation to physical mannerisms, matters of speech and discomforting contortion is impeccable, and it is disappointing to realize such a performance could have been even more highlighted with a more vibrant script.

The same should be said for Felicity Jones, whose formidable performance as the tireless and graceful Jane suffers from an insufficient human focus on her character. We never see Jane as anything but a perfect guardian for Stephen, and yet being in charge of raising three kids and helping her husband with an innumerable number of tasks all while attempting to finish her own doctorate must have been more than enough to put her under duress. In the audiences’ eyes, she is just a little too patient, just a little too perfect, to feel like her story is truly being explored alongside Stephen’s.

In total, the film excels in what it seeks to portray: a realistic relationship between two individuals, based on an at-times shaky foundation and the certainty of a lost battle.

I will admit, I am not the biggest fan of biopics; typically I feel like they sensationalize the story of their subjects to a questionable level or adhere to the strictest vanilla representation possible.

However, I found “The Theory of Everything” to be funny, uplifting, inspiring and heartbreaking all at once, and I look forward to finding time to gather a copy of Jane Hawking’s “Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,” which inspired this film’s production, to further immerse myself in the life of one of the most fascinating scientists in the world.

Film: “The Theory of Everything”
Release Date: Nov. 7.
Rating: ★★★½