Life in a black hole

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing, biopic, rated PG-13, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3 chiles A movie about Stephen Hawk­ing ought to be burst­ing with ideas, ex­plod­ing like the big bang, ex­pand­ing like the uni­verse. What di­rec­tor James Marsh has come up with is a nicely crafted, watch­able, but con­ven­tion­ally struc­tured ro­man­tic biopic.

It has, how­ever, one ex­tra­or­di­nary fea­ture that lifts it above the level of Lifetime en­ter­tain­ment and gives it wings. Ed­die Red­mayne is bril­liant in his trans­for­ma­tion into the gnarled, twisted phys­i­cal wreck of the Hawk­ing we know, body con­fined to a wheel­chair, voice pro­duced by a ma­chine, mind soar­ing through time and space.

The Hawk­ing we first meet is a geeky, cheeky doc­toral stu­dent in cos­mol­ogy at Cam­bridge. He meets a young woman, Jane Wilde (Felic­ity Jones), and de­spite their dif­fer­ences — he’s an athe­is­tic physi­cist; she’s a de­vout Christian study­ing art and po­etry — they fall in love. When Hawk­ing be­gins to ex­pe­ri­ence clum­si­ness and suf­fers a bad fall, he is di­ag­nosed with ALS, a form of mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease. The prog­no­sis is of rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing mus­cle con­trol and a life ex­pectancy of two years. By the end, he is told, only his brain will con­tinue to func­tion nor­mally.

This is the kind of role upon which Os­car am­bi­tions are built, and Red­mayne seizes the op­por­tu­nity by the throat. For a while, as Hawk­ing’s body be­gins to break down, he con­tin­ues to get around cam­pus, his legs wob­bling, his feet drag­ging, his mouth con­torted, and his speech slur­ring. He daz­zles his pro­fes­sors with his doc­toral the­sis on space-time sin­gu­lar­ity. He mar­ries Jane. He fa­thers chil­dren. His body con­tin­ues to de­te­ri­o­rate. But he con­tin­ues to live, to lec­ture, to write. He con­tin­ues to think, and to the­o­rize. His rep­u­ta­tion con­tin­ues to grow.

What Red­mayne cap­tures, as much as the pret­zeled limbs and the slurred, later lost, power of speech, is the character of the man. He’s witty, he’s funny, his eyes twin­kle, and even when his lips are warped, he still can light up a room with his smile. He may have been hell to live with in many ways — the movie is based on the mem­oir by Jane, now his for­mer wife, and it’s a kinder, gen­tler re­vi­sion of an ear­lier ver­sion that painted a darker pic­ture of their re­la­tion­ship — but, after a brief pe­riod of dev­as­ta­tion, he never seems to have al­lowed self-pity to get the up­per hand.

The hu­man el­e­ments of The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing are fine, beau­ti­fully played by Red­mayne and Jones (whose dis­tinc­tive mouths look cu­ri­ously sim­i­lar). What we miss is the ex­cite­ment of Hawk­ing’s mind. We want more physics, more of the sci­ence that reaches in his con­scious­ness to the deep­est ex­panses of the uni­verse. The film A Beau­ti­ful Mind, for ex­am­ple, was able to give us a bit of a glimpse inside that un­con­quered wilder­ness of thought. Marsh doesn’t man­age to take us there; de­spite Red­mayne’s hero­ics, The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing re­mains earth­bound.

— Jonathan Richards

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