Saturday, December 27, 2014

Film Review: The Theory of Everything

I think the filmmakers of The Theory of Everything looked at Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind and said to themselves: "How can we make a movie that can be marketed just like this one but be the exact opposite?"

It is so difficult to review the problems with this movie without getting into spoiler territory, so I won't bother to hide them.  So be warned:


The movie is based on the real life journey of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his life with wife Jane (Felicity Jones).  The movie is not really about his scientific achievements (though that is part of it) and it isn't really about his disease (though that is a major part of it).  It is their love story.   The movie even begins with their first meeting.  That is how the story is built, sold, and framed.

And that is the reason why the movie fails.

When Stephen contracts ALS, Jane decides to marry him so that they can have some time together before he dies, an estimated 2 years at best.  But instead Stephen lives and the two have 3 children all the while Jane does her best to take care of her children and ailing husband.

Again, this should seem very close to A Beautiful Mind plot-wise.  And like the Jennifer Connelly character in that film, Jane gets frustrated and overwhelmed by these circumstances.  She joins a choir and befriends the choir director Jonathan (Charlie Cox) who agrees to help out with Stephen around the house.  However the two give in to temptation and sleep together just as Stephen goes into the hospital and has to have breathing tube put, which removes his ability to speak.  Jane breaks it off with Jonathan and returns to Stephen.

They then hire a specialist named Elaine (Maxine Peake) who develops an attraction with Stephen.  Eventually, Stephen decides to run off with Elaine and Jane goes back to Jonathan.

So the theme of the movie is: when things are difficult, love dies.

Look, I'm not someone who needs a happy ending to acknowledge a movie is good (though I freely admit that is my preference).  But the movie is built on their love.  You are invested in their struggles because of their love.  And in the end, they throw it all away.

The filmmakers could have easily avoided this problem by focusing on other aspects of Stephen's life.  Focus on his work, his struggles, his unique way of looking at the world… whatever.  Just make the love story an ornament to your film, not it's foundation.

And it isn't even that the love itself ends, but its that we are to be happy that they are liberated.  When Jane goes back to Jonathan, director James Marsh infuses the scene with passion, romance, beauty.  In other words, he wants us to be moved and uplifted that they can be together.  But this is a complete betrayal of our loyalties from the previous 2 hours.  None of the characters grow.  Instead they degenerate and we are supposed to rejoice in their freedom.

It is a complete inversion of everything that A Beautiful Mind stood for and what made that movie great and this movie terrible.  In the Theory of Everything, Stephen tries desperately to find an equation or theory that binds all the universal principles together.  But he misses out on what John Nash says in A Beautiful Mind, "It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found."

The one redeeming aspect are the performances.  Redmayne is fantastic as Hawking as should probably get an Oscar nomination from it.  I just wish that performance could be transplanted to a better movie.

As a Catholic, I feel like I should write something about the constant religious dialogue between atheist Stephen and Christian Jane.  But to be honest, it was juvenile at best.  There was no real depth or resolution to their bickering, so there isn't much to say.

Avoid this movie.  It's themes are noxious and it's soul is poison.

The Theory of Everything is a story of nothing.

1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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