Nominations: Picture, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score
Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is not just a brilliant scientist with a great sense of humor or a beacon of cultural iconography, he also happens to be a man with an incredible life story to tell that was long overdue for a grand cinematic retelling. Hawking was and still is a trailblazer, a mind that produced so many intricate and fascinating ideas about the universe… which is why its so puzzling that the always-clever director James Marsh (whose film Man on Wire won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2008) allowed this biopic to fall into such a formulaic rut.
Adapted by Anthony McCarten from the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen by Hawking’s first wife Jane, the story begins where most people might have a hard picturing Hawking – as a youthful and healthy PhD student at Cambridge in 1963. We get to witness the instant attraction between young Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and poetry student Jane (Felicity Jones) that grows strong despite the young man’s declining health and eventual diagnosis with motor neuron disease. And yet despite the increasing physical deterioration that Hawking experiences, he continues to produce scientific and intellectual work, on his mission to discover the equation that will answer every question in the universe. But despite her love for her husband, Jane finds it difficult to care for Stephen, pursue her own interests, and take care of three children.
Although McCarten was nominated for Adapted Screenplay, the biggest disappointment of The Theory of Everything (one of the best titles of any movie this past year) was that it was too neat and too polite. One would guess there’s an issue of boundaries when putting the life story of still living individuals on the silver screen, but the compelling need to be deferential comes at the cost of the story. A screenplay (and overall directing for that matter) more narratively expansive and fearless would have made much more sense for reiterating the lives of Jane and Stephen Hawking. Plainly put, the material just doesn’t feel quite worthy enough for the performances of Jones and Redmayne, both of whom prove to have acting abilities far beyond what any of their previous work would suggest, but especially the latter who is so perfectly able to embody the iconoclastic theorist while bringing his own beautiful and little witty nuances to the role. The biggest chance for The Theory of Everything to take home any Oscar gold lies with the 32 year-old Redmayne who, should Michael Keaton fall out of AMPAS’s favor for whatever reason, will unquestionably and rightfully earn the highest honor a screen actor can ever attain.