16 December, 2014

Review: "The Theory of Everything" (****½)

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne star in "The Theory of Everything."

I’ve been very reluctant to write this review for James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything.” I saw this movie a week ago and have since been chewing on my thoughts and feelings surrounding this film. You know that you get feeling where sometimes you enjoy something so much that you just want to keep it all to yourself? I don’t want to share it because I don’t want to risk someone not feeling the same way. That, and more simply, it was my experience; I don’t think anyone else deserves it something that was mine. But in this instance, I’ll suck it up, because this is a movie so absolutely worth seeing. “The Theory of Everything.” It was devastatingly poignant and magnanimously visceral.

I expected this movie to be a bio-pic of sorts; I expected it to weigh a thousand pounds, bloated with science and maths and formulas in a way that would be impossible to relate or understand. Of course this movie does have formulas and notions about the universe, it’s about Stephen Hawking and it is called “The Theory of Everything” after all. But at the pumping, beating heart of it, “The Theory of Everything” is a bittersweet and moving love story between Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde Hawking. It’s a story of walking, chest-up and bold-faced, alongside the longest, darkest shadows without any hope for sun. It’s a story of quotidian commitment and improbably theory and the likelihood of God. It’s a story of careful ethics and garden-flower compassion. It’s a story of prodigious achievement and intelligent curiosity. It’s a story I’d suggest you see.

“The Theory of Everything” is based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s 2007 memoir, “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.” The film itself begins in the early 1960s at Cambridge University. Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), even then, is a portrait of affable, awkward genius. Early in the film there are small hints of muscle malfunction – a dragging foot, uneven, hunched shoulders, clumsy hands. At a party, Stephen meets Jane (Felicity Jones), a woman who believes in God and studies, as she claims, “the arts.” They begin this charming, stirring, honest relationship that carries them through the rest of the movie. Their relationship, as depicted in the film, is lovely in it’s simple honesty. It’s based on mutual respect and affection, a rare picture in modern cinema I think. There were times when watching Stephen and Jane that I felt like an intruder, that I was privy to the small intimacies that make up a long-lasting marriage that, perhaps, in a normal world I wouldn’t have seen.

It’s impossible to talk about the pairing of Jane and Stephen in “The Theory of Everything” without talking about the actors who inhabit these people. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are near perfection. They’re fearless and flawless and uncompromising in their performances as individuals and parts of this marriage. Redmayne’s Hawking is so physical; I mean, there’s an entire transformation in his physicality, in his body that it’s hard to believe it’s acting. I was never aware of the fourth wall, I always I felt like I was watching people; I was never watching actors pretend and act. I worry that Jones’s performance will be overshadowed by Redmayne’s transformation (because let’s be honest it is so grand), but she was quite remarkable herself. She was the perfect sparing partner, and was perfectly capable of holding her weight in this film. She’s gorgeous, and even the film’s attempts to make her plain, did little to the effect. And the two of them together I think have accomplished a rather remarkable feat in telling this tale.

For some strange reason, too, “The Theory of Everything,” for me, was extremely reminiscent of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” I think the reasoning behind that could mostly be attributed to the coloring and tenor of the film. It could also be the symmetry in their respective movie posters. I think, though, this comparison, or it’s not a comparison really, but it’s more of… an association, this association is because at the core of both of these films are storytellers telling stories, stories that attempt to answer some of life’s bigger, bolder questions in a very lyrical, very stylized, very colorful way.

This film, very deservingly so, will see some Oscar nods. Go see it. Go see it now. And bring tissues. If the movies tend to make you weepy, like they do me, then you’ll need them. “The Theory of Everything,” however, was the best emotional investment I’ve made in a while.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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