The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

'The Theory of Everything' triumphs

VFF Stephen Hawking biopic showcases impressive performances by lead actors

“The Theory of Everything,” which screened at Culbreth Theater Friday night as part of the Virginia Film Festival, tells the true story of the relationship between legendary physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his ex-wife Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones).

Based on Jane Hawking’s memoir, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” the story begins in Hawking’s early days at Cambridge as a young Ph.D. student in the 1960s. He meets Jane at a party, and they begin a relationship. As the couple, Jones and Redmayne have convincing chemistry and exude charm in their portrayal of young love.

Hawking’s life changes when he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease, ALS, and is told he may only have two years to live. This naturally puts a strain on his relationship with Jane, who stands by Hawking as he completes his doctorate degree and takes care of him as he slowly loses control of his body until he is eventually confined to a wheelchair and loses the ability to speak. Despite this, Hawking overcomes the limits of his disease — continuing to study physics, and publishing his best seller “A Brief History of Time” in 1988, which catapults him into worldwide fame.

Redmayne’s portrayal of a man suffering from ALS is impressive in its physicality alone, masterfully showing Hawking’s deterioration by twisting his limbs and contorting his face to the point of near unrecognizability. This performance is the result of months of preparation, during which Redmayne researched Hawking’s life and met with patients suffering from ALS.

But Redmayne does not rely on physical appearance alone — he successfully maintains his charismatic and awkwardly charming portrayal of Hawking through the entire film, even when all he can do to show Hawking’s unbending sense of humor is the lift of an eyebrow. Redmayne’s performance carries the film, and gracefully so.

Jones also holds her own, playing Redmayne’s wife with a balance of sensitivity and fortitude without falling into the trope of the overbearing, complaining housewife. Jones plays Jane’s complexity with adeptness, and her brilliance lies in the subtlety of her performance. The scene in which she discovers her husband is leaving her is especially powerful, with Jones showing a range of emotions from frustration to sadness to relief, all in the span of a minute.

The film largely glosses over the scientific theories that made Hawking famous — the audience leaves with more knowledge about Hawking’s views on religion than his views on black holes. However, “The Theory of Everything” is not meant to be educational. It is meant to offer a glimpse into the extraordinary relationship of two human beings. It is a love story.


Latest Podcast

From her love of Taylor Swift to a late-night Yik Yak post, Olivia Beam describes how Swifties at U.Va. was born. In this week's episode, Olivia details the thin line Swifties at U.Va. successfully walk to share their love of Taylor Swift while also fostering an inclusive and welcoming community.