Tweetable Takeaway: The Theory of Everything is a film with a muddled message that doesn’t build up to much of anything.
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
With a title as vast as The Theory of Everything and subject matter dealing with space, time, and everything in between involving the genius of Stephen Hawking, the movie is curiously unstylized beyond its use of color and the occasional film burn overlay. Also curiously absent is Hawking’s body of work, which, while there, feels more like an unwelcome guest than an integral part of the plot. Most of the movie deals with Hawking’s burdening bodily deterioration and relationship with his wife, Jane Hawking. The performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are fantastic as the Hawkings, but the movie seems more interested in asking the question, “So what?”
Watching the trailer would have you think this is a movie about love that transcends all else, and yet Hawking divorces Jane. Misleading trailers can still lead to enjoyable movies, as seen with The Grey. Here the trailer points at how the movie wants to end, but doesn’t in actuality end. It’s hard to tell what the movie is arguing for. Is this a film arguing that the human spirit triumphs when the body stagnates? If so, too much time is spent on other aspects of the plot. Is the film arguing that if two people love each other enough, they can get through anything? We already know the answer here, being that the two separate and much of the movie is spent on Jane falling in love with a Church choir leader. It’s the nature of being a biopic that causes this lack of focus, because if any were ignored, one would call the movie unfaithful to Stephen Hawking’s life. The theme of the movie seems to be, “If you love someone enough, you’ll stay by their side through hard times, but it’ll wear you down so you’ll eventually leave them anyway.” Not exactly an inspiring line for the movie poster.
There’s also the nagging question in my mind throughout the film of what exactly brings these two together in the first place. There’s a moment at the beginning where they see each other at a party and lock eyes, it seems as if the old love at first sight is the culprit. But beyond that, there’s not much sticking power. Stephen impresses Jane at a dance by explain that Tide laundry detergent is behind glowing white shirts. But mostly it’s doting eyes that link the two together, and it doesn’t seem nearly enough to believe the actions of Jane when she unequivocally vows to stand by Stephen’s side even after learning of his motor neuron disease. Perhaps this is how it really occurred in real life, but in movie form, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
There’s also the problem of events being fabricated or rearranged to suit the movie’s needs. I’m all for understanding the dramatic needs of a film versus real life, but when the changes do nothing to strengthen the film or create a coherent message, it’s a puzzling move. This movie seems to present the story of Jane and Stephen Hawking as a simple series of events instead of building it into a moving story. The way it’s presented here, one almost wishes for a straight documentary on the couple’s life rather than a fictionalized version.
Somewhere within this movie is another movie, more compelling than what is onscreen. The work of Hawking, for one. A man given two years to live in 1963 is still alive today is a fascinating story. Accomplishing as much as he did is even more of a fascinating story. A woman who agrees to stay with a man diagnosed with ALS despite knowing the turmoil ahead is a compelling story as well, but glossed over in its current form.
Eddie Redmayne’s performance is getting appropriate acclaim, his channeling of Stephen Hawking is nothing less than incredible. Felicity Jones turns out a fine performance as well, but the script doesn’t give her nearly as much to do as it could. It’s the movie around the two that holds back their performances. Unfortunately, The Theory of Everything is a film with a muddled message that doesn’t build up to much of anything. I give The Theory of Everything 2.5 Tide detergents out of 5
Score: 2.5 out of 5