Theory of Not Quite Everything

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The new movie about the world’s most famous living physicist, Stephen Hawking, is a fine film, as far as it goes. The problem is, that’s not very far.

Winner of the Oscar in 2008 for Best Documentary, James Marsh, forays into drama with “The Theory of Everything,” which works OK as a love story: A geeky Cambridge student meets the love of his life, and despite the ravages of ALS, they soldier on with admirable British stoicism, eventually experiencing “normal couple” struggles such as divorces and affairs. Eddie Redmayne does yeoman’s work bringingoff the physically deteriorating Hawking….He may even get a “best-actor” nomination out of this….And Felicity Jones does similarly good work as the Mrs. It’s what isn’t in the movie that holds it back.

We could have learned something of Hawking’s or his wife’s early years; his kids are little more than props; and while few want heavy mathematics or physics in a picture like this, it needed something to break up the disease management story and establish this over-arching aspect of his greatness. Ironically , one of Hawking’s academic collaborators, Kip Thorne, managed to get more scientific narrative into “Interstellar,” in his role as technical advisor to that
film, than is presented here. It’s Oscar season, of course, and the singular struggle of one person against all odds is a proven formula for success if a film is relatively well-done, and “The Theory of Everything” certainly is that .

If a more rounded overview of Hawking’s life and theories is what you’re looking for, you might check Netflix for Errol Morris’s documentary “A Brief History of Time” or the 2004 TV movie “Hawking” starring Benedict Cumberbatch.