****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS NO SPOILERS!! REPEAT…THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!****
The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim), is the story of famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, his wife Jane, his battle with motor neuron disease and her efforts to care for him. The film, written by Anthony McCarten, is based upon Jane Hawking's memoir "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen".
The film stars Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking. Redmayne's performance as Hawking is worth noting. He does an incredible job morphing himself into Hawking physically. He looks uncannily like the famed genius as he shrivels and contorts in his wheelchair at the mercy of this awful disease that ravages his body. I can't help but think though, that The Theory of Everything should have been called The Imitation Game because Redmayne's performance seems more like an imitation than acting. When I was a young man (or at least younger man) studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, I had a very interesting discussion with one of the phenomenal teachers there one day about the predicament and potential difficulties of playing an actual, well-known person. This teacher said something that has stayed with me ever since, she said, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the least sincere form of acting". I mean, if imitation was acting, Frank Caliendo and Rich Little would have trophy cases filled with Oscars, but it isn't and they don't. This teacher's voice kept ringing in my ears as I watched The Theory of Everything. This is not entirely Redmayne's fault though. The script is so two-dimensional that, like a black hole, no light, or life, or genuine humanity can survive in it. So Redmayne's obvious hard work is all for nought, and his physical transformation rings hollow because there is no authentic life within in the script.
Felicity Jones does as well as she can with what she is given, and is an extremely appealing presence throughout the film, but again she is terribly short changed by an underwhelming script. She does bring an unmistakable charisma to every scene she inhabits though, and I very much look forward to seeing her work with more substantial material than this in the future.
Visually, the film uses a minimalist approach in trying to convey the big, complex thoughts on time and space that made Hawking such a world famous figure. For example, using the spinning cream in a cup of coffee as a visual cue for Hawking to think of the vastness of the universe and how it all could have started. I think this approach is a fatal error for the film. The story of Hawking would have been much better served if they had chosen to make a film in the vein of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which would tell Hawking's story by using the medium of film to it's fullest advantage by showing us Hawking's unique view of the world, through his eyes. It also would be a great opportunity to use film for it's greatest strength, the ability to show us something that we can only imagine, and barely at that, the big bang and the beginning and expansion of the universe. Instead we get visuals that are flat, ordinary and stale, as is the storytelling.
After the film ended my friend, the inimitable Lady Pumpernickle-Dussledorf, looked up Stephen Hawking on wikipedia and after reading commented, "Stephen Hawking's wikipedia page has more dramatic tension than that entire movie". Wise woman that Lady Pumpernickle-Dussledorf. The most frustrating thing about the film, is that there is such rich source material there, if only someone had the courage to really delve into it. Hawking is a fascinating character, and his life is beyond remarkable, so to have his story reduced into the most pedestrian and simplistic of films is irritating if not downright maddening.
As is often the case with biopics, and is most definitely the case with biopics this year, making a film about someone still alive or someone whom people have a direct interest in protecting their legacy, is a sure fire way to make an ordinary, mundane and dull film. Examples of biopics this year being artistically constricted by people with a vested interest looking over the filmmakers shoulders include but are not limited to, Foxcatcher and American Sniper. I have written before about the difficulty of this situation for actors, directors and writers, in two previous posts, The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part One, and The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part Two. Sadly, I think both of those posts hold relevancy for The Theory of Everything, which is another in the long line of films to fall prey to the dangers of deification.
In conclusion, The Theory of Everything is an ordinary film about a very extraordinary man. It is nothing more than a paint by numbers, standard biopic. There is no life, no energy and most importantly no humanity in the entire film. A life like Stephen Hawking's deserves better, and so do we.
FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , THE IMITATION GAME , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .