Once upon a time, a Polish writer Eliza Orzeszkowa said that you could write about everything as long as you hid a love story between your words – because that’s going to draw people to issues you want to talk about. She certainly wasn’t the Columbus of culture and her theory wasn’t equal to the discovery of literary America – but the creators of “Theory of Everything” would certainly agree with her. James Marsh’s film introduces us to Steven Hawking, a genius physicist, and the story of his marriage with Jane Wild. Not so universe-shaking, it still remains a great biographic film and a tale about extraordinariness and inevitable sadness that it brings.
We meet both of them at Cambridge University in 1963. He is a slightly awkward postgraduate student of physics, a bit unsure of the subject he wants to write about. She is the student of French and Spanish, having ambitious plans for her doctorate. Despite being totally different, they click instantly; the perfect fairy tale commences – Steven and Jane fall for each other and everything seems to lead to a future “happy ever after”. Soon the physicist gets to know that he suffers rare neuron disease and has just two years to achieve his life ambitions. He proceeds to develop a theory that leads to justifying the beginning of the universe in a single equation, they get married… but it turns out that the time is not just “reversible”, which the lead character uses to prove his theory, but also pretty much extendible.
First and foremost – Eddie Redmayne creates Steven with all the traits of a typical genius, if we can go for a little oxymoron to describe the work he did. He shows us a person who is a bit eccentric, yet utterly funny (plus, he’s a genius, which sets another reason to forgive him instantly, right?). Throughout the film, he takes the audience through the process of total, involuntary body autodestruction, and manages to do it convincingly. He captures the behaviours of a paralysed person in a perfectly persuasive way – and there’s a point when he makes the audience cry without saying anything or doing anything unexpected from someone affected by motor neuron disease. Nevertheless, the character he presents is too sweet sometimes – and when I was dwelling on certain matters on my way back home, I thought of a bit of the egoism that should have been shown, as it was hidden somewhere between the lines and never made it to the spotless surface, which would make this utterly nice hero even more human.
Another performance that shouldn’t go unnoticed is Charlie Cox as Jonathan. Even if at some point he might appear as a danger to the world of the Hawkings, he manages to change the picture with his clear intentions and invert the course of the plot by becoming some kind of a winner.
Again, back to the highly important matters from the intro: there is something for everyone. If you expect just a moving story, you’ll certainly find it there. Without being too weepy, it is soothing and warm at the beginning, and bittersweet as it unfolds. Sure enough, it won’t make you drown or, at least, make your shoes wet, but do make sure that there’s that pack of Kleenex in your pocket before you enter the cinema – the protagonist’s fight with the illness and personal life struggles will release several teardrops. Nevertheless, even if it breaks certain stereotypes and shows a remarkable person wrestling with extraordinary circumstances, it doesn’t really smash you thoroughly; it still stays in the certain total-fail-safe boundary. It’s not groundbreaking despite being hugely enjoyable – and allows you to get to know the life of the person who literally rewrote the definition of time.
If you still crave some more food for thought, there are some delicacies. The argument between the existence of God and the science of the universe keeps on coming up as we’re observing the relationship of the people with completely different beliefs: he’s an atheist, she’s Christian. Connecting the concept of time, so important for all of the characters in the story, and desperate search for the boundary, we are taken on a journey to answer some important questions ourselves.
Looking at all the sacrifices Jane went through for Steven, we also start thinking – where is the borderline? The film changes the stereotypical “you always do everything for the one you love” to “you surely do a lot”. Taking care of the person who gets worse day by day, without the tiniest shred of hope, is tiring and discouraging – and even if it’s mister Hawking who the film is focused on, his partner, crafted brilliantly by Felicity Jones, is the person who fights overwhelming hardships, practically alone, on a daily basis. Her choices don’t make us dislike her, they don’t try to justify much either. Instead, we get a fair explanation of her withdrawal. It’s her who decided to take up the journey, it’s her who deals with the outcomes, and it’s her who deals with certain difficult decisions. She doesn’t quit the easy way, but steps back in a safe moment when it gets unbearable, and when she gets some sort of “permission”. What I really, really need to mention at this point (forgive my love for the previous century with an emphasis on the Sixties, you need to excuse me) are costumes, which show for instance in the perfected wardrobe of Jane. We go back in time with fashion by our sides and the elegant dresses of Mrs Hawking, and though not incredibly unusual for those times, they are another insight on the ordinary life of that period.
To sum up, it’s the second biopic over the period of the last month that I watched and enjoyed. By the way, it seems that all the geniuses that I end up admiring went through some sort of personal hell before getting recognition: Lennon and “Nowhere Boy”, more recently Turing and “Imitation Game”… or maybe it’s because slightly sad biographic films are more convincing. There is just one thing we need to keep in mind about “Theory of Everything”: although the film is melancholic, there’s no winner or loser at the end, there’s no success or defeat – everyone carries on living their own way mentally richer because of the effort they happened to go through. Isn’t that message encouraging, after all?