Nothing will prepare you for the exquisite beauty of the new film The Theory of Everything, which shares the incredible, heart-wrenching story of the astonishingly brilliant astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking. As the film progresses, the writers continually surprise you with their ability to achieve an even higher level of delicate artistry from one perfectly constructed moment to the next. From the astoundingly beautiful cinematography to the masterful execution of the gracefully crafted lines, The Theory of Everything may be one of the best films we may ever have the privilege to see.
Anthony McCarten, screenwriter of the film, dedicated a decade of his life to pursuing the visual creation of this story. With every bit of the narrative etched in his mind, McCarten gracefully interwove the disparate facets of Dr. Hawking’s life into one, beautifully fluid masterpiece. As he explained,
“It’s a three-stranded story and we try to give equal weight to the three strands. It’s a love story, and it’s also the story of his [Hawking’s] most profound discoveries. And I honor all of those discoveries and do my best to disseminate them in a way that’s interesting for cinema and then it also charts his decline as a result of ALS, his physical decline.”
Though many know of Dr. Hawking’s astonishing scientific discoveries, McCarten exposes Stephen Hawking’s intricately beautiful and tender relationship with his former wife, Jane, as the foundation of his academic career.
The gradual decline of Hawking’s body due to ALS marks each moment of the film, but this deterioration proves to be less striking than Jane’s unremitting love and care for her husband, which he, because of his illness, could never fully return.
DC Life Magazine had the opportunity to interview the star of the film, Eddie Redmayne, and the film’s writer, Anthony McCarten. McCarten, at the red carpet for the premiere last week.
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When asked about how he endeavored to accurately embody the character of Stephen Hawking and to understand the scientist’s relationship with Jane, Eddie Redmayne, the lead actor, eloquently replied,
“…There was some amazing documentary material of Jane and Stephen when they are in their garden…it’s extraordinarily beautiful moments and you see great tenderness. There’s a sort of sixth sense like quality that happened between Jane and Stephen…There was one moment in the documentary where his [Stephen’s] head would fall and she [Jane] was talking and she wasn’t even looking and she would just place his head back up. It was almost like a dance between the two of them.”
Redmayne spent six months researching Hawking, from studying documentaries about the great scientist’s life to absorbing all that he could from both Stephen and Jane Hawking’s books. He gave life to the striking words Anthony McCarten wrote who, like the actor, understood how tender and delicate the couple’s relationship was and remains to this day. McCarten explained,
“…Jane’s book revealed a one of a kind love story, which was delicate, which was unorthodox. It was set in this milieu of really conservative Englishness and yet the decisions they made challenged the norms of their society at that time and those textures and qualities are what I tried to transfer to the screen…”
In addition to all they could glean from the documentaries and books, Stephen Hawking himself actually helped work on the production. As you will see in the film, as Hawking’s voluntary muscle control deteriorated, he had to find other ways to communicate his thoughts since speaking was no longer an option. Eventually, Hawking learned to use a machine to pick the words he wanted to say and had an electronic voice read them. To the great advantage of the film, Hawking allowed the team to use his voice. When asked how his first meeting with Hawking went, Eddie Redmayne remarked,
“Oh, it was terrifying. But ultimately, hugely rewarding. I had spent months researching and it was like meeting your hero. Because it’s difficult for him to communicate now, it took him a wee while to speak, sort of long pauses and I basically made a fool of myself, filling long pauses with information about him to him, but I calmed down and it was wonderful.”
In using his research and meetings with the actual, incredible man himself, Redmayne strived to depict every aspect of Stephen Hawking’s character. On how he managed to do this, Redmayne replied,
“I try to do it in sort of a three dimensional way; in the sense that I tried to read as much as I could, understand the science aspect, then educate myself on the illness and then finally meeting Stephen and Jane…really Stephen, his wit and his humor was the overriding thing that I took away from meeting him. That was the last element that I tried to weave into the performance because when you meet him it’s the overwhelming element.”
To Eddie Redmayne’s credit, the character of Stephen Hawking in the film possesses an incredible wit and playfulness you would not expect from a victim of any condition as debilitating as ALS. The film sheds light on this unseen side of Dr. Hawking in the nuanced, subtle interactions between Stephen and his wife. The knowing looks and beautifully choreographed quiet moments between the couple gave just as much of an insight into their relationship as did the scenes where the two could actually speak to one another.
Accurately portraying the life of another, unique human being, especially one that will live to see your film, can be overwhelmingly daunting. Redmayne explained that it was only when he saw the film with the actual Stephen Hawking, who silently lets a few tears slip out at the end, did Redmayne finally breathe a sigh of relief.
As soon as you can, take an evening to see the astonishingly beautiful story of Stephen Hawking and his former wife, Jane, in The Theory of Everything. The film opens in Washington, DC on Friday, November 14th, so get to the theater this weekend and experience one of the most incredible thematic achievements of this generation.