Monday, November 17, 2014

The Theory of Everything

There's been a lot of talk online over the past couple of years about how the nerds have "won" - video gaming is mainstream entertainment rather than just a thing loners in dark basements do, baseball teams have major analytics departments, the general public gets genuinely excited for new Iron Man movies or seasons of The Walking Dead, etc., etc. But I think it finally hit me when I sat down for this one and got the first trailer.

I mean, sure, it's one thing when the big escapist movies are based on comic books or science fiction and fantasy. That's just going big. But when the late-in-the-year awards contenders are biographies of people like Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing rather than poets and painters, that's when you know there's been a real sea change.

Another sign: There's a great big Doctor Who joke in the middle of this movie, and the entire theater full of Americans laughed at it. That just blows my mind.

The Theory of Everything

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2014 at AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

Stephen Hawking's life story is extraordinary, but not necessarily cinematic - its milestones are often losing the ability to do things, and his accomplishments can be difficult for laymen to understand. So what do you do? In this case, try and let the audience know a guy whose public face is often inscrutable, as well as hs wife.

The film picks up in 1963, when Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was a Ph.D candidate at Cambridge; not the most hard-working but one of the brightest. Some things are looking up - he's just met Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), an arts major who may fancy him back, and his thesis advisor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) has brought him to a talk that inspires him. But a stumble in the middle of campus reveals the really bad news: He suffers from motor neuron disease, which will eventually destroy his voluntary nervous system, and the usual prognosis is two years.

It's somewhat unfair to frame the story entirely in terms of Stephen Hawking, especially since it is Alice's memoir that is being adapted to film. And, certainly, while it is often Stephen's activities and illness that shape the story, it's often seen from Alice's perspective - the difficulty of caring for a man in his condition, the temptations she would face. It can sometimes feel odd when the perspective shifts, but telling the story from her point of view grounds things, and Felicity Jones does a nice job in growing Jane from the naive student to someone who handles big challenges.

Full review at EFC.

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