The Theory of Everything (2014) is a tug-of-war between being a film about Stephen Hawking’s (Eddie Redmayne) medical spiral downward with simultaneous scientific discoveries and a film about (MILD SPOILERS) how his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) met her new husband Jonathan (Charlie Cox). And why shouldn’t it be? It’s advertised as a Hawking bio-pic, but if you read the credits, it’s based on a book by Jane, Hawking’s ex-wife. So you have to wonder what her perspective brings to the story and what it leaves out. Does she make herself look better than she was, or does she make Stephen look better than he was? Both appear courageous and kind. Even Jonathan, who infiltrates their marriage, enters with benign intentions and feels guilty for any upset he may have caused. It is, then, probably a watered down, overly kind version of reality, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when what you intend is to create a romantic, tragic bio-pic.
Is there science? was my first question. Reading magazine reviews that complained that it was too sappy and too focused on family and not enough on discovery, I didn’t go in with much expectation for science. Indeed, there are classroom scenes with Professor Sciama (David Thewlis) and even an explanation of the rules of the universe using potatoes and peas, but little more that will provide a deeper understanding of Hawking’s first thesis or the follow up thesis he wrote to disprove his first thesis. You’ll have to read his books for that.
What’s nice is that the story breaks the stereotype of pitting religion against science. Jane is a Christian and Hawking is an atheist, but their ideas about how the universe works live in harmony. Jonathan, also a Christian, befriends Stephen after Hawking explains that because of the trajectory of the universe, God has to die, whereas you might expect in a more cliche film, this would cause them to butt heads, especially if you know that Jane will eventually leave Stephen for Jonathan. There is only the slightest of tension between religion and science in this film, and it’s refreshing.
The film goes through great pains to show Hawking was a good father, including scenes where he’s acting as a Dalek, chasing his kids around the living room, and more subtle signs, like the way he’s holding his daughter in his lap when they’re dining on the porch. This is what makes it so odd that his divorce with Jane doesn’t include any mention of the children. How often will he get to see them? Do any of the children take sides? Just as I’m feeling cheated out of the real story, Hawking does imply that after all his accomplishments, his children are what he’s most proud of. This forgives some of the earlier omissions and rings true with the sorts of philosophy Hawking is known for.
Ultimately, if you like sappy bio-pics, this one’s not bad. Not as good as A Beautiful Mind, I don’t think. The cast was terrific, though. Personally, I especially liked the graphics and music chosen for the end credits.