When you hear about The Theory of Everything being about Stephen Hawking, you’d probably assume it’s about his scientific conclusions. You will actually be quite surprised.
Stephen Hawking is an astrophysics student at Cambridge in 1963. Stephen is awkward-looking, rather clumsy and already his imaginative thinking is being noticed by students and professors with varying reactions. One night, he meets Jane Wilde, a literature student. They form an unlikely couple with Jane actually taking an interest and liking in Stephen’s imagination.
The following year, there are two incidents that will change Stephen’s life: the first being a lecture on black holes which inspires him to write a thesis about time; the second being when he learns he has ALS–Lou Gehrig’s disease– and is given two years to live. Stephen becomes a recluse upon hearing the news but Jane tells him he loves him and will marry him. The two marry and they have a son Robert.
Stephen continues giving lectures as his condition deteriorates from using crutches to needing a motorized wheelchair and even talking with great difficulty. Jane is always there to help him but it’s becoming very hard on her. Nevertheless he continues to give lectures about black holes, evolution and time to top professors. Some professors find it erroneous while others praise it and give him an honorary doctorate.
Over time Hawking continues to win more acclaim in the science world including becoming a world-renowned physicist. Nevertheless the fame and his physical condition is making it hard for Jane both as a wife and as an educator. Upon her mother’s advice, she joins the church choir where she meets conductor Jonathan Hellyer Jones. Jonathan becomes a friend of the family but the birth of her third child causes suspicion from her mother if Jonathan is simply a friend. Jonathan senses the suspicion and leaves the family for a bit but Stephen tells Jonathan himself she needs him.
While Stephen’s in Bordeaux, Jane has a camping trip with Jonathan and the children and it’s obvious their feeling for each other are shown. The trip ends as Jane learns Stephen contracted pneumonia and needs a tracheotomy in order to fight this. Jane agrees. However Jane finds dealing with Stephen too difficult and hires a helper named Elaine. Elaine works well with him on the letter board. Then computerized technology comes in play and Stephen is able to communicate with a talking machine. He’s able to speak better with the machine than he did when he still had his own voice. It enables him to write a book where he dictates and Jane and Elaine type. The book, A Brief History Of Time, becomes a best-seller and wins Stephen worldwide renown. However it does mark the end of the marriage as he plans to accept an award in the US with Elaine instead of Jane. Nevertheless the film ends on a positive note leaving one to believe Jane and Stephen are still soul mates despite no longer being married.
The remarkable thing about the film is that it shows Stephen Hawking in a light we don’t normally notice. Yes, it shows Stephen and his scientific thoughts. Yes, it shows Stephen in his wild imagination. In fact there are times when it makes Stephen look like the Albert Einstein of our times. However it also shows other aspects of Stephen like how ALS can paralyze his body but not his mind. It’s safe to assume ALS made him a stronger person and the movie shows him acquiring his personal strength over time. He was expected to live only two years when he was first diagnosed and he’s still alive today. It shows how he won’t even let ALS stop him from getting a Penthouse subscription. It also shows him as a father and a husband but also a man with some personal weaknesses such as being sucked into his new-found fame and falling for his assistant Elaine.
But somehow it often appears the movie is not about Stephen. It appears more like it’s about Jane. We shouldn’t forget the film is based off of Jane’s memoirs of being Stephen’s wife. It shows Jane as she’s first attracted to Stephen despite being nerdy and having an eccentric mind. It shows her as the one who got Stephen out and living right after he learns he has ALS and even marries him. It shows her as the one that stood behind Stephen every time he gave a lecture on his Black Holes Theory even when top professors would dismiss it as rubbish. It also shows her as the one who helped Stephen write his legendary book with his talking machine. It almost appears like she was his arms and legs.
The film however does make Jane out to be a saint. It does show Jane’s struggle of being both a wife to a man with a disability. In fact it was the scene when Stephen is playing croquet just after his diagnosis and Jane sees how much it’s deteriorated him that sent me the message this movie could be about Jane. Despite Jane doing her best to be a supporting wife, there are times she can’t hide the frustration and it upsets her. Her frustration is a common frustration people who are spouses with disabilities go through. The film also shows Jane in another flawed light when she falls in love with Jonathan and has a long affair. This film highlights Jane’s own flaws as it highlights Stephen’s.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the film has to be the performances of the two leads. Eddie Redmayne was beyond dead-on as Stephen. In fact it’s the scene of the divorce where Eddie playing Stephen said more with his face than his talking machine did that caught my attention. There were many times in the film Eddie was able to say more in silence as Stephen than when he was talking. From beginning to end he was excellent and embodied the ALS flawlessly. It wasn’t just the ALS. Eddie also gave us an inside look into Stephen’s imagination which adds to the character. Imaginative minds must be something for a topic for film this year. First Alan Turing and now Stephen Hawking. Felicity Jones was not only excellent but also did a great job of stealing the show. Her embodiment of Jane Hawking helps you get to know Jane better as well as have a new found respect for her. In terms of acting, this is mostly a two-person film. Nevertheless there were some good supporting performances from Charlie Cox as Jonathan and Maxine Peake as Elaine that added color to the story. Even the minor appearances of Stephen’s college mates and Stephen’s family added to the story too.
James Marsh did a very good job in directing, especially since he’s more of a documentarian (Man On Wire). This is his second feature-length film that isn’t a documentary and he does a great job of directing the story and bringing out the characters. Anthony McCarten did a great job of adapting Jane Hawking’s memoirs into a good story with great character depth. However it did often come across as a two-actor screenplay and could have added more depth to the other actors. The film had other great efforts too such as Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography, the score from Johan Johannson and added visual effects that dazzled.
The Theory Of Everything isn’t a perfect depiction of Stephen Hawking and his marriage to Jane but it is entertaining. We get to know the two better and feel for them both.
Still Life was the last film to do with the VIFF that I saw. It was a surprise that I saw such a downer film as my last one but it wasn’t a complete downer. In fact it has a lot of good elements worth watching.
The film begins with John May doing his job. He’s a council case worker in South London who looks for relatives of those found dead and alone. It’s not an easy job to do. In fact it’s very hard sometimes when he deals with relatives who want nothing to do with the deceased. Not even their own children. He arranges funerals for them even if he ends up being the only one attending and gives them a respectful burial. He even takes the pictures of those whom he was the sole attendee at their funeral and puts them in his own personal album.
Problem is John himself is an ‘alone’ person living by himself in an apartment with no real contact with neighbors. His job which he’s been doing for 22 years appears to be his only real purpose or his only interaction. However the news breaks one day. The company’s changed ownership and he’s about to be laid off by the new owners, feeling his services to those he buries are too ‘costly’ and are making the move to ‘efficiency.’
John wants to make his last case work especially since the deceased, Billy Stoke, lives in the same apartment as him. He comes across a photo album that shows pictures of his daughter ending in her teen years. He tries to get more information like from two people on the streets who used to drink with Billy. He finds out that Billy used to live in Truro. He meets with people who knew him like his ex-wife and former co-workers but none are interested in paying their last respects to Billy.
Finally John meets his daughter Kelly but she doesn’t want anything to do with Billy either. John proceeds with having a tombstone made and finding a burial spot. Just when John thought it was all over for him, he gets a call from Kelly. Kelly hears all that John has done and is happy about it. She even invites John to come see her on the weekend, to which John accepts and appears to finally come to life. Then comes a moment no one expects. It appears to set up for a very sad ending but instead ends on a positive note that appears appropriate.
It’s a question whether the film was trying to convey a message about lonely people or not. Mind you it does touch on a lot of things such as some who left other relatives estranged, some who lost all their friends because of their surly attitude or some who just have no one. There’s one scene that catches my eye and that’s where John looks over the photo album of those he arranged a funeral for. As each picture was seen, it reminds you that those people that died alone with no other loved ones used to be a somebody to others some time ago in their life. Sad how life made a turn for the worse for them. It is good to see someone like John May out there who does give such people found dead and alone a dignified last respects. Another scene that stands out is when John arranges Billy’s grave at the cemetery. Soon he sees the people that are to replace him and what they do is just simply cremate the bodies and pour the ashes in a mass grave. No funeral, no last respects, no nothing. Hey, it’s more ‘efficient.’ It only makes what John’s always been doing look like the right thing.
The most surprising thing about this film is that this first appears to be the downest of the down films ever made. It has all the making for it: a story of a man who has no family and friends trying to give a respectful last respects to those who died alone. The film does have a morbid feel to it and even John looks like the walking dead at times. What kept it from being a complete downer were some humorous moments. They were easy to spot. The film had a way of making humor of certain moments come unexpectedly like John at the intersection, John eating that shepherd’s pie after being told what Billy did after he was fired or even when a drunkard pours liquor on Billy’s coffin as a farewell. Even the scenes near the end as John is seen smiling to Kelly gives the movie an unexpected warmth and a welcomed warmth. That scene as John sees Kelly off was that moment where John appeared to truly be alive. Even the ending added to the quality. It didn’t end suddenly fluffy and happy like so many Hollywood movies would do. The audience would first think this will be the saddest ending in all of movie history added to the quality. Instead it doesn’t as it ends with an ending that will have you saying: “Yes, very appropriate.” To this day, the ending of Kids remains the most depressing film ending I’ve seen.
This was a very good film written and directed by Unberto Pasolini. He takes what would normally be a very down topic and makes a very good and very watchable story about it. This has to be his best work since his production work on The Full Monty. Also good to see he didn’t give a fluffy ending that was still positive despite the circumstances. It’s not to say that it didn’t have its imperfections. Like we don’t know exactly why John himself is all alone. Did his parents die? Was he ostracized? Was he so fixated on his work, he ignored everything and everyone else around him? There’s that lack of clarity.
Excellent acting from Eddie Marsan. For all intents and purposes, this was his film. He does a very good performance of a character who actually feels like the walking dead. Only he adds humorous elements to him and makes him into a 3D person rather than a stock character he can easily become. The supporting actors were also good as a whole however it’s Joanne Froggatt who’s the one with a role with the most dimension. The only other standout is the music from Rachel Portman. It does a good job of creating the mood.
Still Life is a surprising film in more ways than one. It makes a film about loneliness with a protagonist being its epitome and actually makes it quite watchable rather than completely depressing.
And that does it for reviewing VIFF films. I didn’t have time to see them all. In fact there some I had a chance for but I was either ill or too exhausted to see. Anyways it made for an exciting festival. My wrap-up of this year’s VIFF coming soon.