Redmayne (left) says volumes without uttering a word.
The Theory of Everything delicately observes the boundless universe of love's possibilities: what we're willing to give, take and endure. Inspired by Jane Wilde Hawking's memoir about her life with former husband Stephen Hawking, the brilliant theoretical physicist diagnosed with motor neuron disease at age 21, the film's heart beats with a romantic optimism, even when their union ends. This adaptation buffs away some of their relationship's rough edges, including his prickly selfishness and her resentments about it. But hey, we can dream a little, can't we?
The couple's courtship begins when they're graduate students at Cambridge in 1962, a period that cinematographer Benoît Delhomme lenses like a storybook romance. Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) is a shy young man with a grin as wide as his shoulders; Jane (Felicity Jones) is a self-possessed young woman with china-doll features who finds herself drawn to this unlikeliest of suitors. Around this time, subtle omens of Stephen's illness begin to appear. Given a prognosis of two years to live, he withdraws from the world. But Jane won't allow him to go gently, challenging him to a game of croquet. As he irritably stumbles around the wickets, she watches with moist eyes betraying her brave smile. You know you're witnessing the beginning of a remarkable love story, for here is one human being giving another a reason to live.
As sublime as the film is, it's strangely inert. Granted, the debilitating nature of Hawking's disease inhibits the action, but the possibility of something dynamic is there in his beautiful mind. When Hawking formulates his game-changing theory about the birth of time, the movie comes alive with the wonder of discovery. When it shifts back to the growing strain in the relationship between Stephen and Jane, you will yearn for more science and less marital drama.
What takes The Theory of Everything into the cosmos is Redmayne's extraordinary performance. The disciplined precision with which he embodies Hawking's failing body is nothing short of astonishing. Each scene demands a different level of concentration with respect to the muscles in his torso, limbs, face and more. Yet you never see Redmayne sweat. All you see is Stephen. And like Stephen, Redmayne doesn't let the laws of nature constrain him. With a smile, a frown or a tear, he says everything without uttering a word. It's wondrous.