Grimy, sweaty, passionate, alive – James Marsh’s exploration of the complex romance between future physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), the college girlfriend who would become his wife and supporter, flies in the face of expectation. Avoiding tropes of the biopic genre, The Theory of Everything is raw, emotional and at times so intimate in its portrayal of the Hawkings’ most unusual marriage, and of Stephen’s battle against motor neurone disease, that you feel as though you’re intruding.
It will be jarring for viewers to see Hawking, now famed as a wheelchair-bound, robot-voiced intellectual, racing around the Oxford campus on his bike, hair whipped back by the wind and a broad grin stretching across his face. It may also come as a shock to watch his courtship of the pretty, quiet Wilde blossom into all-consuming infatuation – to see them together is to watch two sweet and inelegant souls, both intoxicated by the promise of their bright futures, becoming utterly intertwined, bodies and minds both.
Marsh captures the totality of their love, but also its hardships. Once Hawking is diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and the debilitating horrors of the disease become apparent, their marriage becomes more strained. Wilde’s love drives Hawking forward, pushing him to explore ideas that will eventually radicalize the scientific community, but as his star rises, the sacrifices she has made become clear.
Redmayne and Jones deliver two of the year’s best performances, him capturing Hawking’s physical descent in a stunningly transformative and insightful turn as she does less showy but equally impressive work to communicate Wilde’s inner strength and conflicted heart. Though only the former brought home an Oscar for his work, The Theory of Everything is indubitably a two-hander, a incandescent work that soars on the strengths of both lead actors.
Marsh and screenwriter Anthony McCarten know that the truth about people is never clean-cut, and it’s rarely written down in the history books exactly as it happened. So, with the help of two Oscar-worthy performances from its leads, The Theory of Everything digs deeper, past the scientific jibber-jabber and the stodgy, overly respectful biographies. With aching humanity and unconcealed passion, it gets to the heart of not only the love and life of its two leads, but to the heart of love and life as universal subjects.
On Blu-Ray, The Theory of Everything is beautiful to behold, with the 1080p transfer satisfying in every department. Precise and detailed, the image is cold and hard when it needs to be (such as in the hospitals where Hawking is first diagnosed) and warm and cozy in other scenes (like above, when Wilde and Hawking slowly fall in love at a firework-lit Oxford ball). Never is the image less than crystal clear, and the presentation is free from any hiccups that occasionally plague less carefully assembled releases, like banding or washed-out color. Universal nailed this one.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also a total success, immersive and impressive in how it blends the overpoweringly emotional score (from Johann Johannson, who was rightfully nominated for an Oscar – though Alexandre Desplat took it for The Grand Budapest Hotel) with crisp, clear dialogue and background sound effects like the squeak of Hawking’s wheels or the loud murmur of college students bantering at a crowded party.
In terms of special features, the Blu-Ray offers a DVD copy, a digital HD UltraViolet copy and an iTunes-compatible digital copy, as well as:
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Becoming the Hawkings (7:03)
Sadly, the extras are the weak link on this release. James Marsh runs the whole nine yards in his commentary track, covering performances, cinematography, music, tone and much more, making it the best addition by far. The deleted scenes add little of value, though there is a nice bit where we actually see the Hawkings meet the Queen of England. The lone behind-the-scenes featurette, “Becoming the Hawkings,” is deplorably short but focuses on the two lead performances with regard to how Redmayne and Jones learned the idiosyncracies of their characters.
The Theory of Everything is one of the very best films of 2014. Though the Academy saw fit to honor Birdman, Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel much more, Eddie Redmayne’s victory in the Best Actor category speaks not only to the power of his revelatory performance but also to the elegance of the film’s presentation and the strength of his support – specifically Jones, rivetingly flinty, and Marsh, who brings the world of Stephen Hawking to gasping, gorgeous life. Though the special features are a disappointment, nothing should stand in the way of you watching one of the best biopics in years.
Grimy, sweaty, passionate, alive and overflowing with respect for its remarkable subjects, The Theory of Everything is one of the best movies of 2014 and features two of the year's most towering performances.