It’s fair to say that after a rough patch in the early 2000s, the American independent film industry is back. There are more films being released than ever before, and it seems like there’s a new franchise, movie or miniseries about every two weeks.
One of the main drivers behind this indie renaissance is The Weinstein Company, who have been at the forefront of revitalizing the American independent film industry. One of their latest projects is the big-budget, $90 million fantasy adventure, The Theory of Everything. Directed by James Marsh and starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and Lily Collins, this historical drama focuses on the tumultuous relationship between theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and linguist professor, and future wife, Jane (Redmayne).
The Theory of Everything is the kind of movie that fans of Hawking and the big-budget sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters from the 70s and 80s will enjoy. It features cameos from Michael Gove, Jimmy Prichard, and Stephen Fry, along with some terrific special effects. What’s more, Marsh seems to have captured the quirkiness that made up the charismatic scientist’s (and his own) personality.
The Film Is Set In…
Hawking was born in London in 1942 and began his working life as a physicist at the University of Cambridge in the early 1960s. It was during this time that he developed his famous A-B verbal games with co-worker, Dr. Roger Penrose. The two spent hours sitting in front of a blackboard, trying out new combinations of words, with Hawking testing them out first and then jotting down the answers. The pair were later featured on the cover of New Scientist magazine in 1974, and their linguistic experiments continue to this day. It’s said that Penrose still gets jealous when he sees other men talking to his former pupil.
After Cambridge, Hawking worked for a while at the Royal Star & Shuttle Company, designing telescope mechanisms and special effects for movies and television. It was about this time that he decided to settle in the U.S., where he could access a bigger pool of academic and scientific collaborators. He moved to California and attended the University of California, San Diego, where he met and later married his second wife, Jane. Together, they set up the Hawking Radiation Group, exploring the nature of reality and the universe. The group’s research led to several theoretical breakthroughs, including the theory of gravitational waves, the theory of black holes, and the theory of parallel universes. The pair’s work was so groundbreaking that in 2014, they were awarded the prestigious Copley Medal by the Royal Society.
…And The Film Is Shot In
The Theory of Everything is set in the present day, although the majority of the film’s action takes place in the ’70s. In the film’s most interesting and pivotal scene, Stephen Hawking gives what is supposed to be his final lecture to a packed lecture theater at Cambridge University. The audience is overflowing with students and academic supporters, and the hall is packed to capacity. After an introduction from a friend and colleague of Hawking’s, Dr. Bernard Carr, the renowned physicist takes the podium. He begins by thanking his audience for coming and then proceeds to deliver what is supposed to be his final lecture. For the first 20 minutes or so of the lecture, Hawking is magnificent. He expounds on the latest research and groundbreaking theories. But then, as the clock ticks closer to midnight, he starts to slur his words and become increasingly more disjointed. In the final minutes of the film, he even throws some of his own equations on the blackboard, seemingly losing his train of thought as he gropes for the right symbols. At the very end, almost as an apology, he briefly corrects a misstatement by his wife, before stumbling off the podium into his enthusiastic audience.
The next day, an unimpressed Jane confronts her husband in the media. Despite the couple’s warm public displays of affection, their marriage has always been somewhat formal. Stephen, she explains, has his mind elsewhere. He’s been struggling with severe writer’s block, and she suspects that he’s been consulting otherworldly sources for inspiration. Jane also reveals that they’re having money problems. Stephen, she says, has been keeping the family’s finances a secret, and she fears that their marriage is on the verge of ending. In the following months, Stephen spends more time with his family and retreats from the hustle and bustle of public life. The final scene of the film shows Stephen playing golf with his son, Robert. The father and son exchange pleasantries and then the camera fades to black.
The Film’s Biggest Disappointment
One of the film’s biggest disappointments is that, although it’s set in the present day, the special effects in The Theory of Everything seem a little bit dated. The effects in general aren’t bad, but given that the entire film is set in the 1970’s, it’s surprising that so many of the practical effects don’t feel more natural or at least a bit more representative of the period. There are also a few missteps in terms of the film’s historical accuracy. For example, the portrayal of Stephen Hawking as an aloof, genius is not entirely accurate. Hawking himself has said that he’s not brilliant at taking decisions, and the way the movie shows him navigating the complex world of academia is probably more suited to a caricature than an accurate reflection of reality.
Another source of disappointment for some viewers is that Jane’s character, while she is an intelligent and independent woman, is more of an enigma. Her motivations, and even her personality, are left deliberately vague by the filmmakers. This leads to some awkward scenes in which she confronts her husband about his erratic behavior. These scenes, while necessary in order to advance the plot, don’t always play out as compellingly as one would hope given the source material.
Ultimately, The Theory of Everything is a flawed but still worthwhile film. It’s not an overly ambitious project, but it does its job of shedding light on an important aspect of the physicist’s life and offering his fans some new material to chew on. For more information on the film’s production, check out the filmmaker’s Instagram account, @theoryofeverythingmarsh.