Stephen Hawking is probably one of the most well-known, recognizable, outwardly famous nerds in the entire world. And yet, upon watching this movie, I realized how little I knew about his life, and just how much he has accomplished. Nevermind the cinematic liberties that The Theory of Everything may have taken for the sake of the story; Hawking’s the man. It takes a special, rare person to be that cocky, to think that this unattainable theory is somehow attainable. His sheer focus, clarity of mind, brilliance, all that — it pales in comparison to the degree of determination he had. The rarest thing about him isn’t the set of health circumstances that befell him; it’s his ability to completely disregard them and move forward with his goal, no holds barred.
I wonder if there’s a bit of that in Eddie Redmayne, then, too. He’s a bit of a thing. The only role I can recall of his that I had seen was his stint in Les Mis, and he was definitely my favorite part, but he’s so innocent and unassuming that it must have seemed daunting to take on this role. Do it right, and you’re most certainly nominated for an Oscar. Fuck it up, and you’re the guy who spent several months limping and torturing your body, only to come across as a jackass. Fortunately, Eddie falls in the former category. His performance is magnificent, and it really humanizes a person that, frankly, most of us see as a machine. Of course, the Stephen we see on screen is also very romanticized, and who knows how much of that is accurate, but watching a bumbly, gawky kid with oversized glasses woo a girl is never not cute. Knowing that guy will grow up to be the greatest living scientific mind is just icing on the cake. Redmayne contorts his body in ways that must have been excruciating. ALS is not kind. But the way that he must have studied to perform this role, to allow the “disease” to overtake him gradually, is really impressive. So is his chemistry with Felicity Jones, who plays his longtime (though divorced now) wife, Jane. She’s so sweet, and maintains that sweetness throughout, but you never doubt her vivacity, either. What’s also interesting is how neither of them overpower each other. Redmayne’s character would be the likely focus, but the truth is, neither of them are. Hawking’s mind, and his theory, is greater than the both of them, and their portrayals of this couple show just how real that was when it was actually happening. Stephen knew, and Jane knew, and they were a team that worked together to achieve that goal. Even as their marriage fell apart–and who knows how much of the story is actually true–they maintained a quiet dignity, because they knew that they accomplished something great together. The theory, their children, their partnership.
It was also refreshing to get lost in a biopic, for once, because Redmayne and Jones are not uber-familiar to me, nor were most of the other actors in this movie. Chalk it up to American ignorance, but I was able to feel like I was back in the 60s, at Cambridge, living life with a bunch of skinny geniuses. And what a life that must have been.
As far as the Oscars go, I don’t think this is the Best Picture of the year. I don’t think I’ve seen it yet, whatever it is. The movie itself is beautiful, and somewhat romantic, as I mentioned, and its staging got out of the way of the actors to let them tell their stories. It was their vehicle, more than anything. For that reason, I do think Eddie has a shot, though the four other men in the category Brought It (or so I’ve heard). I haven’t yet decided if I’m rooting specifically for him. One thing’s certain: He worked.