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The Theory of Everything ••1/2

Theory_of_EverythingStarring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior
Director: James Marsh
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten, Jane Hawking
Biography/Drama/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: November 26, 2014

Stephen & Jane Hawking: Duo, P-PP Emotional, Pro (Classic Romantic Dievergent Heroes)

ALS: System, N-N, Ant (Disease Villain)


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I thought that The Theory of Everything would take forever to tell.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Nothing to worry about, Greg. More than anything, it was a theory of something. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to young Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1963. He’s a gangly young man and socially awkward. He goes to a mixer where he meets young Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). She’s studying the arts. The two seem to have nothing in common. But when they go to the fall gala, Stephen starts talking about the stars. Jane quotes poetry back to him. The two quickly fall in love.

But all is not well with Stephen. He has a clumsy gait and grabs awkwardly at flatware, pens, and chalk. One day he falls flat on his face on a walkway and is sent to a doctor who diagnoses him with ALS, a deadly neurodegenerative disease. Although Stephen is given only two years to live, Jane marries him and the two make the most of the time they have together. Jane volunteers to sing in her church choir and strikes up a friendship with the choir director Jonathan (Charlie Cox). Soon Jonathan helps out with Stephen and Jane’s children. But trouble is brewing in the family.

Scott, this movie is problematic as it’s not clear who the hero is. It looks like Stephen Hawking may be the lead character because its all about his genius and his battle with ALS. But then they quickly bring in Jane and strangely, the story seems to focus on her. Hawking become a bit of a prop, scooting around in his wheelchair. We get to see him at the chalkboard here or there, or in a lecture. But after the point where Hawking is confined to a wheelchair, this becomes Jane’s story.

In our book Reel Heroes: Volume 1 we break hero patterns down by the number of characters who are in the lead of the story: the lone hero, the duo, and the ensemble. And I think I have to land on this being a duo story, even though Hawking seems to fade into the background in the second half. Further, we break the duo down into the Hero/Sidekick, the Buddy Heroes, and the Divergent Heroes. And I think that last one is where Theory falls. This is the story of how two people came together and ultimately fell apart.

I agree that Stephen and Jane are divergent heroes who travel much of the journey together but then go their separate ways. This movie tells a poignant love story of great triumph over significant obstacles – for both characters, not just for Stephen. It also tells a story about the collapse of a family and the loss of love. The film boldly portrays Stephen in a less than positive light in that he shows less loyalty to Jane than she shows him. We’re presented with a realistic view of human resilience and human weakness.

While I was impressed with the heartwarming story and with the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, I was a bit underwhelmed with the movie as a whole. The film ventures perilously close to Hallmark-made-for-TV territory. Moreover, we’re not given any more than a fleeting glimpse of the scientific breakthroughs that Hawking is known for. I felt a bit cheated by the constant stream of puns about time that apparently (according to this movie) is the foundation of Hawking’s genius. A lot of smart professors in the movie clap and shake his hand, and that’s about the only indication of his greatness.

I think you’ve really struck the nail on the head. This was a love story. I was surprised that the teen-aged ticket taker said that she had seen this movie and it made her cry. Clearly, this movie was more aimed at an audience more interested in the relationship than the story of a man’s genius. And since the title is The Theory of Everything I think we’re right to feel a bit cheated that we didn’t get any insights into Hawking’s genius, or at least his thinking process.

If there’s a villain in this story it’s ALS. This is the thing that is stealing Stephen’s physical self. It’s also the thing that promised to be done with him in two years. By some miracle, he lived and continues to live well into his seventies. And this is the diabolical turn this villain takes. At the beginning of the story we meet two young and idealistic people who are in love. Jane essentially signs up for a two-year stint. But it is the ongoing and debilitating disease that ultimately destroys their relationship. And this is truly heartbreaking.

The Theory of Everything is a commendable story of two people whose love and loyalty carry them through decades of adversity, but alas, not forever. The movie is interesting in its focus on one of the greatest minds of our generation but there is a lack of depth here that left me wanting more. On the strength of the performances of Redmayne and Jones, I can award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The two divergent heroes travel a remarkable journey, and I was moved and impressed by these characters’ strength, loyalty, and resilience. The couple does receive help along the way, and ironically two sources of help (Jonathan and Elaine) end up being the source of the couple’s demise. Our two heroes travel a remarkable journey and hence I give them 4 Heroes out of 5.

As you point out, Greg, the villain here is a horrid, destructive force of nature that doctors have labeled ALS. As villains go, this disease is formidable even if it isn’t quite as interesting as, say, a human villain might be. As such, I will award ALS a rating of 2 Villains out of 5.

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The Theory of Everything doesn’t deliver on the promise of its title. I kept comparing this movie with a similar story A Beautiful Mind. There are strong parallels. John Nash was a brilliant mathematician plagued by schizophrenia and was helped and supported by his wife. But Mind succeeded where Theory did not because it focused on the struggle of the hero overcoming his obstacles. Theory got divided between the struggle with the disease and the loss of the relationship. The goals of the movie were divided and that splits our attention. I give Theory just 2 out of 5 Reels.

This is a divergent hero story but unlike other such heroes we’ve reviewed, the focus starts on one hero and the shifts to the other. The first half of the movie is really about Stephen and the second half is about Jane. It’s a weak approach and leaves us wanting more. I give this pair 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally the villain is ALS (or time itself) and is not given much screen time. We watch Stephen lose more and more physical ability, but we really don’t see much about the disease or how he overcomes it. What we do see is how Jane is increasingly overwhelmed having to take care of not just their three children, but Hawking as well. I give ALS 3 out of 5 Villains.

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