Tuesday, 9 September 2014

TIFF Review: The Theory Of Everything

The Theory Of Everything, 2014
Directed by James Marsh

I've been wanting to go to TIFF for a few years now. Living just outside Toronto, it's not a big deal to get down there to see a movie. However, this is finally my first year! And while I was only able to see this one film, I was very pleased that this was my choice.

Stephen Hawking is working on his PhD at Cambridge University in 1963. At a party, he meets arts student, Jane Wild. They talk all night and, at the end, she gives him her phone number and they begin to fall in love. Stephen is passionate about his work in cosmology. He's naturally gifted and, while often disorganized, is completely brilliant. He has a new theory, something that would change the way we look at the universe and starts to work on it for his PhD thesis. However, he takes a bad fall while running through the university courtyard and knocks himself out. Upon waking up in the hospital, he is told he has Motor Neuron Disease, and the timeline is about 2 years left to live before his body deteriorates. At least, almost everything except his mind. Encouraged by the fact his mind will stay in tact, but terrified of everything else, Stephen pushes everyone out, only to find Jane pushing her way back in, agreeing to be with him for whatever time they have left, and for encouraging him to keep study and working. And while his condition does get worse and worse, we all know he surpassed the 2 year timeline.

Both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones completely soar in the roles of Stephen and Jane, and are destined to be regarded as two of the year’s best. Redmayne perfects the progress and deterioration of Stephen throughout the years. The change is gradual, and Redmayne never brings it too quickly. He captures the little things incredibly well; the crooked hands, the inward turned feet, the lolling head and difficult speech. Credit must be given, not only to Eddie Redmayne, but to the director and screenwriter for the first 30 minutes of the film. Not yet diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, Stephen is brilliant, somewhat disorganized and has great dry wit. We get to know him, his personality, and his love for Jane. After he is diagnosed and his situation becomes worse, they never let Stephen become just his disease. This is so important to the rest of the film. We never lose who Stephen is and what his personality is. Redmayne is able to let this still shine through all the other layers of disability that he is portraying, and the ability to keep Stephen’s personality throughout is what makes the film as powerful as it is.  Redmayne could not have been a better choice for the role (and not just because he looks so much like a young Stephen Hawking) but because he gives it his all. He has an exceptional shot at scoring his first Oscar Nomination.  

As well, Felicity Jones brings a masterful performances as Jane. As the emotional backbone of the film, she may seem delicate, but Jones gives her strength and complexity that you initially wouldn’t have guessed when looking at Jane. Jones gives a brilliant performance as the brave woman who stood behind her husband, dressing him, feeding him, looking after their children and working on her own PhD. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, and Jones brings a weariness that we understand, and are still able to sympathize with. It’s a performance that absolutely can’t be ignored.

As you can imagine, the marriage between Jane and Stephen is not an easy one. Jane is a Christian who firmly believes in God, whereas Stephen feels mixing in a Creator to science throws off any calculations and they find themselves asking whether religion and science can be mixed. But not only that, it’s about their ultimate happiness as individuals. Stephen loves his work, but is constantly trying to overcome his phsycal limits. Jane, too, is seeking happiness, and is unsure where that is found. When she becomes close with the choir director from church who helps with her and Stephen, she must make choices. Not only were Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne cast so well individually, their innate chemistry is what brings their relationship truly to life, both in the happy parts and the difficult ones.

The performances are not the only stand out of the film. The cinematography by Benoit Delhomme is absolutely stunning. Everything from the classrooms of Cambridge, Stephen and Jane’s home, the landscape of Bordeaux or the inside of a theatre is captured in such brilliant vivacity and colour. Everything is made beautiful and brilliant. As well, the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is beautiful and really captures Stephen and Jane and everything about their life. There is preciseness in it that reflects with the science themes. It is completely atmospheric and was a joy to listen to.

However, the film as a whole did not completely reach the potential it could’ve. It only seldom stooped to inserting saccharine lines and moments, but it never really inserted truly original or daring ones either. It is fairly standard for a biopic and doesn't do much out of the ordinary. While slightly formulaic, and definitely reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind, the film still does please and comes into its own. It still touches on all the hard subjects that I wasn’t sure the film would, but it softened the blows and while no one is painted perfect, the treatment is not as negative as it could've been. It treads lightly through the difficult portions, but the fact that they are there is still a bonus, and gives the film more of an authentic feel. As well, there were many heartbreaking moments, and I know I definitely welled up and almost full out cried in a couple scenes, but never felt like that was being forced on me. While there are definitely emotional and sad scenes, they are never forced or strung with music for a 'lets make the audience cry now' moment, which makes the connection with those scenes much stronger.

The film is not a perfect one, though it has enough things it does well to make it a worthwhile watch and one that is a definite crowd pleaser. It’s a film that is ultimately inspirational and uplifting. And while much of the complicated science and theories of Stephen are not really explained or included, it always ties back to where Stephen is, who he and Jane are, and what they believe. This movie, while formulaic, has a lot of heart and charm, and has a lot of technicals that are done exceptionally well, that it just might be the crowd-please, feel-good of the year. 

This is definitely a movie to keep an eye out for this Awards Season. As mentioned, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are forces to contend with. While no one is ever guaranteed nominations at this point, I’d say they are very safe bets at this point. As well, don’t rule out a cinematography, Original Score or Hair and Makeup nominations. While a nomination for Best Picture is less likely, it’s enough of a crowd please and ticks enough Academy boxes (Period Piece, Biopic, Someone Overcoming Disabilities, etc) that it could sneak in.


No comments:

Post a Comment