The study of physics has had a fascinating history in the arts. The latest foray explores the life of the greatest living physicist. Director James Marsh has built his current film around Jane Hawking’s book Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen. Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire was stunning, and he brings the same innovation and command to his new film.
Eddie Redmayne plays the physicist Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones his college girlfriend, wife and mother of their three kids. Opening in bucolic collegiate Cambridge circa 1963, the English couple are students gingerly exploring their mutual affection. When Stephen is given a prognosis of two years to live as a result of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), he withdraws from Jane and his studies. She nonetheless stays by his side. His progressively debilitating physical state does nothing to deter either his intellectual curiosity or his love for Jane. Their marriage and children soon follow.
Her religious conviction is at odds with Stephen’s scientific conclusions (echoes of Charles Darwin and his wife). Hawking studies time, probably motivated by his supposed lack of it. In one scene, he stirs cream into a cup of coffee and ponders how it swirls and combines. That is reminiscent of a scene in a Tom Stoppard play, in which the playwright (he no slacker in the wonders of physics) ponders why you can’t unmix a color when it is blended into a container of white paint.
As Hawking’s worldwide fame increases, the unity of his family is sorely tested. Redmayne (already garnering awards such as the forthcoming Desert Palm Achievement Award in January during the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala) contorts himself into the wheelchair bound Hawking, eventually communicating only via facial expressions and a digital voicebox. Redmayne and Hawking have met, and the former indicates the latter was pleased with the film.
Jones plays the long suffering wife in a way that is neither maudlin nor unreal. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten ably compresses many decades and draws out the characters’ motivations without resorting to cloying conventions. Cambridge is seen as mostly green, warm and sunny…the brush of memory paints with golden strokes.
When film explores the scientific mind, the results can be mixed. The Theory of Everything is what Hawking is still seeking, and the film of the same name reaches its lofty ambitions.