Spoiler Alert! The following article may consist of content considered to be spoilers for the film The Theory of Everything. However, given that this is a biopic (i.e. based on actual events), they’re not really spoilers in my opinion, simply events which have already occurred in the past. The moments mentioned our not major plot points anyway- this article gives away very little more than the trailer itself…
-Brief moment of silence…
I watched the film, The Theory of Everything, in Hong Kong, having managed to book an isolated seat in the cinema during the Christmas holidays. I had been desperate to watch it ever since I first saw the trailer back towards the beginning of this academic year:
As an avid film lover and admirer of Stephen Hawking - both as a figure in science but also simply as a person - I felt that this film was a must-see for me. The moment I realised that it had already been released in Hong Kong, I had to see it right at that moment of (space-)time. The script above presents one of the first interactions between Hawking and Jane Wilde at a party in Cambridgeshire.
Everybody knows Stephen Hawking; he’s grown into a cultural icon of sorts over the years; he’s a man who’s made somewhat of an impression on everyone. Physics in a motion picture, what more can you ask for? I went into the cinema believing that this was going to be one of my favorite films of all time; I even said that to my brother after he asked me why I was so desperate to watch it.
What did I think of it? To my surprise, I loved it even more than I thought I would. The central focus of the film wasn’t physics or maths, but the profound relationship between Hawking and his first wife, with the science simply as a side-narrative. This was a film which told the remarkable story of the love between Stephen and Jane Hawking, meeting at Cambridge and almost instantly falling in love. The pivotal journey is depicted, the way in which this relationship evolves over the course of Professor Hawing’s life not long from having embarked as a young healthy man on his PhD course at Cambridge transitioning to a man who began to decay both emotionally and physically due to his diagnosis of motor neurone’s disease (initially given a life expectancy of two years). As an audience, you follow the couple and watch them grow and create a bond that is ultimately unbreakable. Having broken expectations and limitations again and again.
This is an incredibly emotional and dramatic picture, the kaleidoscopic emotions conveyed in the most intricate and delicate manner. Eddie Redmayne already had a good backbone with the aid of beautifully written screen play, an incredible co-star (Felicity Jones who is also nominated for an Academy Award), a hauntingly phenomenal and most importantly a superb, engaging and fascinating story to tell. However, his performance would ultimately make or break the film and he inevitably knew this whilst realising also the immense pressure of portraying an iconic figure who is still with us today.
In order to appreciate fully the performance Redmayne gives, you should first consider how detrimental the portrayal of Professor Hawking could have been., Hawking’s prominence in the media and society has subconsciously painted a silhouette of him in all our minds. We know the various points of rigidity and fluidity in his body from simply having seen images of him over the years. Moreover, ALS is unique yet similar on every person which it affects. So Eddie Redmayne had to deliver a bespoke performance tailored towards Hawking’s decline in muscular control, yet maintaining the essence of ALS which he creates by having different points of tension and limpness throughout his body dependent on the stage of Professor Hawking’s life he is portraying. Also, on top of the physicality of the performance, Redmayne had to alter his speech dependent on which stage of ALS he was depicting. Now, all these demands for him could have gone horribly wrong and, as a result, might have been perceived as offensive or simply ridiculous. I was blown away by the precision with which he delivered his performance. Even Hawking himself said that at points in the film, he believed that he was watching himself.
Redmayne had spent many months researching and visiting ALS clinics, as well as three months training with a dance coach in order to transform his body in such astounding ways. For economic reasons, films cannot be shot chronologically (unless you’re Boyhood). So Redmayne had to jump in and out of different stages of Hawking’s life, with the film spanning over about forty years. He had to train so that his body wouldn’t be strained and could be flexible as well as adaptable. For his research, he studied pictures of Stephen over the years in order to identify the order in which Professor Hawking’s muscles decay due to the lack of video footage. Furthermore, the Cambridge-educated actor must have used some of the skills acquired during his History of Art degree when analysing the source material.
Overall, Redmayne has reached new heights for everyone in the acting world, and reminded us all of just how powerful one man’s performance can be, having both meticulously brought the depth and colours of one’s physicality and emotions to the big screen, creating a roller coaster of emotions that ultimately inspires us to live life to the fullest: “When there is life, there is hope.’ So, Mr Redmayne, here’s to you, I hope that you can add an Academy Award next to that Golden Globe in your trophy collection. It was truly an inspiration to watch; my personal highlight was when he simply cried. If you’ve watched the film you will recall this moment instantly; it’s a remarkable part in which Eddie Redmayne manages to strike such intense emotion in your heartstrings as you watch painfully through such limited movement given the stage of the disease was in.