We're living in a fascinating time for the movies. On the one hand we have the branded escapism of the summer blockbusters and on the other hand we have the intellectual auterist movement. Somewhere in the middle we have films like James Marsh's "The Theory of Everything", a film that follows a tried-and-true formula but is also crafted with thought and care. It's of the kind that Hollywood has been making for decades, inspiring and "good" in every sense of the word. It's heartfelt and well-made.
"The Theory of Everything" is a biopic about the brilliant Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), an astrophysicist known for his theories on the origins of the universe and the concept of time. While shaping his mind at the prestigious University of Cambridge in England, he meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). An arts major at the same school, they fall deeply in love and are eventually wed. With her support, Hawking makes significant progress with his PhD research and finds happiness in their blossoming relationship. Sadly, their journey hits a bump when Hawking has an accident one day that triggers an illness called motor neuron disease. The diagnosis is dire - a gradual debilitation of his speech and movement and a life expectancy of only two years. In the face of this challenge, Stephen and Jane's subsequent story is one about defying the odds through the forces of love and sheer willpower.
Yes, you probably know where this is going. Anthony McCarten's script gives you what you expect - a meet-cute, tragedy, domestic drama, triumph over adversity and a rousing finish that lifts your spirit. As a result it's restricted by convention but it's also eminently likable. As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Even with it's formulaic tendencies however, "The Theory of Everything" does some noteworthy things with its plot. For starters, I was quite impressed with how important Jane is to the narrative. She's the typical supportive wife extraordinaire but she's never subordinate to her husband's brilliance. They challenge each other (especially when it comes to the topic of the existence of God) and she has her own life and passions. Their marriage is built on mutual respect and trust and it's nice to watch. It provides a great role for Jones and she has the deeply committed performance to back it up.
Speaking of commitment, you'll hardly find another performance as dedicated as Redmayne's this year. In the beginning of the film he projects a beaming young man full of hope and promise, capturing the bliss of youth. When the tragedy strikes, it's this foundation that makes it such gut-punch. When he has to struggle through the disease for all those years, you can really feel the strenous physicality of the role. All the while, he's still giving us the emotions despite the many acting limitations placed on him.
My biggest takeaway however is the film's gorgeous score. Jóhann Jóhannsson left his mark on this film to the point where it often feels like he's the one directing. He took an otherwise dour film and enhanced it with his beautiful orchestrations. The music fully captures the story's ups and downs, the joys and the sadness. His crescendoing piano melodies may feel emphatic at times, but overall it's wonderfully affecting.
The storyline of "The Theory of Everything" may give the impression of a run-of-the-mill biopic, but it has a stunning musicality that's all it's own. It's a treat for the ears as much as it is for the eyes. It deserves your full attention.
If you weren't convinced by the keywords "biopic", "physical disability" and "heartfelt", then let me confirm now...yes, this is an "Oscar movie". If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the film getting nods for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Original Score. A nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay also seems likely but that may depend on the quality of the opposition. I'm pretty confident in these predictions, so be sure to check back here in January to see if these bets would have proven profitable.