Stephen Hawking is one of those figures everyone knows of but few know about. This biopic from Man on Wire Oscar winner James Marsh is based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the book written by Hawking’s wife, Jane. Despite its writer, the focus of this film is squarely upon Stephen, and Eddie Redmayne’s performance is one of those tortured turns the Academy loves: Think Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.
Best known for Les Mis and his My Week with Marilyn, Redmayne has never previously produced the level of craft and discipline necessary for such a physically demanding role as Hawking. He twists and wracks his hands, legs, torso, mouth, voice—practically everything—to portray the brilliant physicist crippled with motor-neuron disease.
Naturally, Felicity Jones as Jane takes the backseat to Redmayne’s more obviously challenging role, though poor Jones might have the more difficult task, as she must portray Jane’s inner struggle to raise a family and care for her increasingly disabled husband. To be fair, both shine.
Marsh’s artful depiction of the world around Hawking matches Redmayne’s notable performance. The simple act of going up a staircase becomes a vertigo-inducing shot of wonder. The director and his cinematographer, Benoit Delhomme, raise The Theory of Everything above most standard biopics. Still, we have the typical narrative arc of a biographical romance (romantic biography?). Famous person falls in love; famous person faces struggles; famous person overcomes.
Similarities aside, I would much rather watch the rare scientific biopic over another musical bioflick. If you’ve seen one rock and roll legend on the big screen, you have apparently seen them all. Also, I doubt we’ll be seeing a Neil deGrasse Tyson movie anytime soon. Come for Redmayne; stay for the elegant depiction of one of the smartest men ever to live. (Bonus: Search “smartest man ever” and enjoy the competing lists).
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