Film review: The Theory of Everything (Director: James Marsh)
By Sascha Krieger Blurred shapes in golden light. Round and round it goes, a figure, it slowly emerges, in a wheelchair, effortlessly transforming to a spinning bicycle wheel in soft blue light. This begins James Marsh’s film about Stephen Hawking, the best-known science of our time, struck with a degenerating disease at 21 years of age, who has lived more than 50 years after being given no more than two by doctor. An unlikely story, a miracle, one might once have said, but first and foremost a story of perseverance and love. Love to knowledge and love between two humans, rolled all in one. The film centers on the relationship between Hawking and his first wife Jane who stuck with him through it all, stubbornly refused to turn off life support when doctors gave up and who eventually had to find a new life without him. Marsh and his director of photography, Benoît Delhomme, paint the story in soft pastel-like colors interspersed with grainy interludes of wordless happiness, and infuse it with the rhythm of a flowing ballad, a never-ending song, giving the film a dream-like quality. The story’s harder edges – the fear, the overwhelming demands of a disabled husband, the eventual parting of ways – are not denied but they are not delivered as dramatic highlights or turning points, but rather as matter-of-fact stages in a life story unfolding in a time which is both linear as it is stagnate or, to return to the folk’s opening, circular. There are no outbreaks, just a series of acceptances that life might do many things – but it never goes according to plan. But even in the most painful moments, there is a warmth to the characters that seems almost unreal. The Theory of Everything has the enchanted nature of a dream – and just like a dream it is as real as human experience gets. The film touches on and sketches the various stages of Hawking’s scientific development but it doesn’t focus on his theories. Instead, it embeds them in a larger narrative of human should looking for meaning: in science, love, religion or even themselves. At the center of all this is Eddie Redmayne who delivers an earth-shattering performance as Hawking. He starts out as a somewhat clumsy geekish youth who as the disease begins to encapsulate his body is more and more reduced to tiny, but telling movements of eyes and mouth. Redmayne never shows off, his acting is subtle, accentuating the stages of decay while at no moment allowing us to forget that his character’s brain and soul are exempt from the implosion of his physical powers. If it’s true that the greatest actors only need the slightest wink or twitch to convey a world of emotions, Eddie Redmayne belongs to the very best. Yes, The Theory of Everything at times appears to simple, to easily flowing, as in the triangle between Stephen, Jane and her eventual second husband Jonathan. But then again, it is not a naturalistic painting but an impressionistic sketch merged with a romantic landscape. A dream called life. Nothing less.