Stephen Hawking’s is one of the greatest minds to have existed on this planet. A large part of his output is basic syllabus in your physics and mathematics textbooks. His brain is capable of curating more original thought than most other human beings in history. So it’s very disappointing that the movie based on such a razor sharp personality, a true genius in every sense, is so dull and pedestrian.
A lot of upsetting things are brought to light in The Theory of Everything. Firstly, the film is directed by James Marsh, who has earlier made the tremendous docus Man on Wire and Project Nim, and the excellent British thriller Shadow Dancer. All of those films had depth, nuance and sense of belonging in their respective genres. This movie, however is unsure of what it is supposed to be – it tries to be an epic, sweeping biopic of Stephen Hawking, yet it restricts itself to the bittersweet love story between Hawking and his wife Jane. It’s neither a full fledged biopic nor a romantic dramedy. It does not belong to any particular genre, and whatever it attempts to be, it doesn’t succeed in making any lasting impression. And when you’re watching a forgettable movie about someone so unforgettable, you know something is deeply wrong. The only thing you'll remember is that this movie was made for the Academy voters, who generally fall for manipulative, uninspiring love stories featuring extraordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances.
The film charts Hawking’s life between his university years in the 60’s when he was a young and awkward campus whizkid all the way towards the late 90’s through two different marriages. Now here’s the thing:
a) It does not say anything about where Stephen Hawking was from, who his parents were and how he shaped up into the prodigal child genius.
b) It does not cover any interesting details on how he came across his numerous discoveries and theories about space and time. This guy single handedly changed the way we look at the inner workings of the universe and the movie completely glosses over how he got to his findings.
c) The least interesting aspect of any genius is his love life. And this film is only about the marriage and eventual divorce of Mr and Mrs Hawking. That would still have been interesting had the film portrayed the bitter truth about the fractured and obviously difficult relationship between the two – instead the film sugarcoats everything and presents the couple as something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
d) Since there is such little detailing about Hawking’s background, the filmmakers expect you to already know everything about the man. And this is a conundrum, because if the audience already knows about Hawking and his achievements then they need to watch something they don’t already know to be interested. Yet the film lazily offers the already well-known and also most uninteresting slice of Hawking’s life.
Now Eddie Redmayne, the bloke who plays Hawking is truly amazing in his role. I doubt any other actor would have come so astonishingly close to Hawking’s persona and parlance. Every single detail, right down to the tilted neck and the glint eyed broken grin is present. His performance is powerful enough to permeate the screen - you’ll wriggle your toes in discomfort when Hawking struggles with his paralyzed feet. In fact one feels for Redmaybe because he’s the most hardworking person in the movie.
Felicity Jones, in her Oscar nominated role is also lovely, but you don’t feel anything for her because you know everything between the couple has been Hollywoodized and sanitized for Oscar bait purposes. Jones managed to extract tears from your eyes in Like Crazy because her character was so stunningly real and relatable, here she’s a product being paraded around to impress Academy voters.
But what really depresses in The Theory of Everything is that it feels way longer than it actually is. It’s because there is nothing interesting going on in the film. You sit down to watch a film about the greatest living genius on Earth and all you get is sentimental tripe. A well made film about a man who achieves the impossible in his darkest, lowest part of life will move you, but The Theory of Everything tries to manipulate you. It could have been great joy to watch Hawking defy every expectation, both scientific and personal, sadly the film does not defy even the most basic adversary of cinema – schmaltz. It feels like the poor man’s A Beautiful Mind.
If Hawking’s theories actually pan out, and reversal in the space time continuum is indeed developed sometime in the future, one hopes someone would travel back in time to fix this movie and make something that Hawking does deserve.
(First published in Mid Day)