…a look at a 2014 popular film.
What could have been an intense biopic of the life of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, delving into the struggles of motor neuron disease and the effects of such a life-altering event affecting loved ones, instead turned into a light documentary crafted for box offices. The film purposely strays away from the intensity and struggle of life with a disability as a way to appeal to a broader audience. The Theory of Everything, dir. James Marsh, rests upon the surface of Stephen Hawking’s life and the lives of those connected with him. The movie shows the seemingly ordinary life of anything but an ordinary person. Despite such disappointment in intrigue, the movie is enjoyable, and it does what any box office movie should do: appeal to the public.
The movie opens with Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) living his life, fulfilled, with friends, a girlfriend, and academic success, as a Cambridge University student. Taking a turn into the second act with Stephen’s diagnosis, the movie follows chronologically the life of Stephen, his girlfriend (and soon to be wife) Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), and the multitude of people invested in their lives, one way or another. The movie explores the life of the incredible Dr. Hawking and offers insight into what a troubling but spectacular life it was. However, it all feels a bit tame.
The Theory of Everything is a for-rote, for general consumption movie. The depiction of Stephen’s troubles shies away from what must have been harrowing and vastly uncomfortable experiences. Jane is strong, she deals with everything as it comes, and her vast struggles are barely breached. However, an opportunity to delve into the emotional strife of Jane on a raw and deep level was ignored; instead, the movie barely provides a couple of tears when Jane is told of Stephen’s disease.
Portraying intimate, natural human shortcomings and emotions is foreign to this movie; it is as if there is a veil over the depth of human emotion, which is no fault of the actors or even the director, but the fault of the industry. This film feels limited and is limited due to the fact that to be sold to the masses which demands the true ugliness of life, its reality must be shielded. Everyone knows who Stephen Hawking was; there is no surprise when he is diagnosed in the film with a crippling disease, or when he proposes his famous theory of black holes. Perhaps people do not know of his wife, or family friend Jonathon (Charlie Cox), or the names of his professors, but other than that, people know of Stephen Hawking’s life.
The multitude of ways this movie could have gone was ignored–ways which could have exposed people to something new and intriguing. There could have been a deep, intimate look into the lives of those affected by motor neuron disease, or a biopic focussed on Jane rather than Stephen to showcase the hardships of raising three children and providing for a disabled husband simultaneously, or even a look into the actual research which Stephen was doing. It feels as if the movie did not know what part of life to focus on, so it chose to briefly hit on as many aspects as possible, which led to a movie with no direction, a movie that has no real climax, no great emotional catharsis.
However, the movie held some great aspects including an award-winning score, award-winning actors (Eddie Redmayne), and visually appealing cinematography. In terms of the general atmosphere, the movie is light and won’t send the audience home with deep sorrow in their hearts; it simply offers an easy-to-watch story for the general public, which does not necessitate a negative review, rather an indifferent opinion. Taking the movie outside of a critical view, there is not much to complain about; in truth, the movie was fine. But just that: fine.
The spectacularity and the grandiose emotional impact this movie had the potential for was cast aside through a screenplay with blurry distinctions between the acts and an already well-known story. There were no curve balls, no tumultuous ups and downs that we didn’t already know the outcome of. When the movie was released, Stephen Hawking was still alive, his person was still widely known, and people knew that Dr. Hawking lived on after the events of the film; and with no doubt about the future of Hawking, the movie fails to amp up the lesser-known parts of his life to increase intrigue and emotional investment for the movie.
Overall, the movie did what it was meant to, delivering a feel-good story about a publicly loved figure, but it seems lackluster compared to the impact a movie of such a subject could have had.