Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Theory of Everything

The reflection of the cosmos 
in a loving relationship

     The Theory of Everything will please those who like movies about English geniuses who develop frightening illnesses such as Hilary and Jackie (1998).   I don’t mean that as disparaging because they also end up in some intriguing, outré romantic entanglements.  In H & J, one sister shares her
husband with her more gifted musician sister (Jacqueline du Pré) in the early stages of multiple sclerosis.  In The Theory of Everything, physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife share a loving and physical relationship after his diagnosis of a motor neuron disease related to ALS, but things become more complicated as other potential companions are introduced and I’ll leave it at that.

Stephen and Jane Hawking
     The movie is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir, though I don’t know how close it follows.  It gives every character his or her due and certainly Jane does not paint herself as a saint.  After Stephen physically fails and while trying to juggle two young children, there’s a moment where I could see the spirit dimming in Felicity Jones’ eyes.  
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones
She delivers a lovely performance that quietly shows Jane’s love and devotion, but also the price she pays for giving care to a superstar physicist physically petrifying before her.  When they first get together, they believe they’ll have two years together, but after fifteen, they’re both agonized for different reasons.

Redmayne Playing Father
     Eddie Redmayne made the second half of Les Misérables (2012) bearable and he’s displayed an elegant, fey presence that didn’t prepare me for the incredible charm with which he inhabits Hawking, especially after he cannot speak.  His eyes sparkle throughout and they draw in the viewer.  Yes, he reproduces the overwhelming challenges of Hawking’s condition, but where he approaches greatness is in showing Hawking’s genius and the way in which he articulates his ideas in an understated, even ordinary fashion.  

     Some reviewers have wanted more of the physics.  I felt the movie got that across through how it folds time back on itself at the end, but also how it keeps suggesting the past in the present.  The characters age over twenty-five years, but it’s done very subtly through lighting and mannerism, rather than gloppy make-up.  However, some of the dreary hairstyles of the late ‘70s and late ‘80s show up with authenticity and without a smirk.  

The Art Direction As It Relates to Hawking's Works
     Director James Marsh paces the movie well, but there is a sense of time passing in the examination of an intimate relationship as it lives and dies.  It’s a simile for Hawking’s work in black hole theory and history of time.  I didn’t care for the lighting at all.  It seemed too strong and underdeveloped, resulting in a butterscotch texture that looks like how aging female news anchors are presented.  I don’t know if cinematographer Benoît Delhomme was trying to suggest a hazy, warm, endless English summer, but the movie didn’t look good until the story moved into the somber ‘70s. 

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