The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh. Written by Anthony McCarten, based on a book by Jane Hawking. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, and Harry Lloyd. Distributed by Focus Features, 2014. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material. Running time: 123 minutes.
What would you do if your doctor told you that your muscles would soon completely shut down and that you would die in about two years? If you were Stephen Hawking—who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963 at age twenty-one—you would earn your PhD in theoretical physics from Cambridge, revolutionize your field, get married and father three children, earn substantial wealth and international fame, and live for several additional decades (Hawking is now seventy-three).
The Theory of Everything, based on the memoirs of Stephen’s first wife, Jane, touches on Stephen’s work in physics, his religious views, and the eventual dissolution of his first marriage. But the film focuses on Stephen’s heroic effort to succeed in life despite his severe physical limitations and on Jane’s heroic effort to help him do so.
One scene poignantly captures Jane’s determination. Before she marries Stephen, Stephen’s father tells her, “I don’t think you realize what lies ahead. Jane, his life is going to be very short, so be careful. . . . This will not be a fight, Jane; this is going to be a very heavy defeat—for all of us.” Jane replies calmly: “I know what you all think, that I don’t look like a terribly strong person, but I love him and he loves me. We’re going to fight this illness together—all of us.”
The main strength of the film is its lead performances. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen and Felicity Jones as Jane carry most of the film as they interact over the course of Stephen’s life, first prior to his diagnosis and then over the years of his physical decline. . . .