Time. In the first few seconds of the critically acclaimed film The Theory of Everything, it is apparent that time is the central subject. This is no accident, but rather a deliberate and stylistic choice of Director, James Marsh, directly tying the accomplishments of the film’s protagonist to the structure of the film. The film chronicles the life of Dr. Stephen Hawking, a man who gave the world the ability to grapple with the boundless concept of time. Superficially the film may be perceived as a commercialized love story capitalizing on the romance of Dr. Hawking and his first wife’s relationship, but leaving the film, its impact is more deeply felt.
It is difficult to go see a film during awards season, without expectations, especially when a film has already garnered a significant amount of buzz. An Oscar contending film has to live up to its critics’ reviews and raves. Theory is no exception to this rule with its main actors, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, already nominated for Golden Globes and well on their way to nominations for the biggest prize, the Academy Award. However, the film is more than another spectacle on the Academy’s starry list. Biopics are generally controversial due to the real life counterparts coming forward and negating a film’s whole premise in most cases. This film is different; it feels genuine and with truth comes pain. Perhaps it is the progression of Hawking’s illness in the film that does the trick or even more so, his wife’s strength in witnessing a bright young man’s decline into a realm where he has no physical control. The authenticity of their performance sucks the audience in, allowing them to fully understand time in the simplest way: the way it affects us and thus affects our entire universe.
The film does not once lose focus on the subject of time and its unceasing progression. Redmayne’s Hawking—whether he’s working on the theory of it or experiencing how quickly it passes, as an everyday bystander—commands such physical discipline that there is never a moment of questioning his bodily disposition. The actor shows us a different side of Hawking than what our generation has come to know: a mere boy who had to become a man in the face of great adversity. Of course, it is not to say he stood alone; Felicity Jones shines as his first wife Jane. Jones’ portrayal of Jane Hawking brings deeper understanding to Hawking’s journey. Despite the tribulations of anticipating the decline of her husband’s body, Jones embodies Mrs. Hawking’s perseverance with grace and unwavering resistance. It is this alone that makes the love story convincing. The chemistry between the two ranges from charming and idyllic to heart wrenching and nostalgic. Redmayne and Jones embody their characters so effortlessly that the audience cannot help but be swept into the magic of their partnership.
Time, however, is not the friend of the Hawkings, even though it is a subject the doctor knew so well. As the film progresses, the hardship of time becomes cringingly apparent as the splendor of the couple’s youth slips out of their hands and the realities of ALS become a mainstay in their daily lives. The creeping progression is no accident; it is the utilization of time as a theme that makes this film so gut wrenchingly realistic. Even the great professor could not control time’s ceaseless journey. The film concludes with a reverse shot of the Hawkings’ lives, from their reunion at Buckingham Palace to the first moment the couple laid eyes on each other. It is in this moment that the audience knows something Dr. Hawking was trying to prove: time is everything.
Although a love story is anticipated before seeing the film, one walks away knowing it was a film about the testament of the human spirit. Both Stephen and Jane demonstrate the power of fortitude and how the human spirit, despite its occasional lapses, is unbreakable. The Theory of Everything is more than a film that is sure to sweep awards season, it is a film to remind us that it is possible to overcome any trial in the seasons of our lives and to appreciate the time we are given. There is no boundary to time, as Dr. Hawking said, and after seeing the film one realizes there is no boundary in which we get to experience it.