Marsh’s biopic cleverly captures Hawking’s struggle, success

 By Noah Sunshine II Senior Staff Writer  

The issue with biopics is kind of an obvious one—how can a movie hold up when the viewer is intimately aware of the fate of the main character? There is no suspense, and as a result, little drama. Entering The Theory of Everything cold had me worried because, for those of us that are familiar with great physicist Stephen Hawking, there is no fear. He becomes paralyzed at the end, and the process in between is merely sadness directed towards a degrading life.

I was, in many ways, correct about The Theory of Everything. I was correct about the predictability of the storyline, as it is faithful to Hawking’s actual story, for all intents and purposes. I was also correct that this forces the movie to be somewhat reductive—James Marsh’s imagining of the physicist’s life is forced to abide by the two things that everyone already knows. The first is that Hawking is paralyzed. The second is that he is a genius.

The audience is reminded of these truths every few minutes, be it through a stereotypical ‘genius at the blackboard’ shot a la A Beautiful Mind or Good Will Hunting, or frequent close-ups of star Eddie Redmayne’s twisted hands and uncoordinated feet that prevent the story from striking any personal chords. Hawking is kept at a distance because these two facets of his character are inherently unrelatable to the average viewer.

The film is also guilty of capitalizing on the viewer’s innate feelings for Hawking, often accelerating the story since we already know his struggle. As a result, I found him married and with two kids before being able to remember the name of his wife. I forgot what Redmayne’s voice sounded like because, once his ALS was introduced, the story barreled through that part of the plot like a freight train.

The train stops when Hawking is finally rendered immobile, finding his way from place to place in a motorized wheelchair, and reclaiming some agency for himself. I consider this the turning point in the movie as he suddenly becomes a character again instead of a prop, and when the film itself starts to get a bit more heartwarming. Since the audience knows the ending, it needs these feelings along the way to give the viewer something he or she doesn’t already have; I’m disappointed it took so long.

Cinematography in The Theory of Everything is excellent. Though falling victim to a few tropes (like the aforementioned chalkboard scene), there are several dizzying shots fit for a modern art museum. Marsh capitalized on the strong visuals with many scenes free of dialogue. Redmayne and Felicity Jones, playing Jane Hawking, built a wonderful nest of emotion even when Redmayne’s character was rendered fully speechless, highlighting instead the devotedness but flawed love of the two leads through actions interpreted in flawed, human ways.

The Theory of Everything is worth seeing at some point, though maybe once it shows up on internet-based venues.

While it suffers from a very flawed vision and overambitious timeframe, the acting and visuals were artistic and worthy of the Oscar nod. It won’t win Best Picture, but Redmayne stands a chance to win Best Actor if the Academy sees his performance as the brilliance it is more than the novelty it could have been.

Noah Sunshine is a senior staff writer. His email is nsunshin@fandm.edu.

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