Director: James Marsh
Lead Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
We meet Stephen Hawking as a PHD student. He is riding swiftly on a bike, with full use of his legs and hands. There is a smile on his face and he is alive, very alive. He is on a way to a party, a social mixer, where he meets the lovely Jane, future Mrs. Hawking, played by Felicity Jones.
We get the feeling that with her beauty, Jane could have charmed just about any man there, whereas Stephen is shy and awkward. But, there is a spark inside Jane, and she is much more interested in Stephen's ramblings about time and the universe than anyone else at the party, including the friends she came with.
A literature major herself, she is immediately captivated and challenged by Hawking, who also happens to be an atheist and challenges her god-fearing ways.
Simply put: sparks fly and these two intellectual giants are soon dancing gingerly under the stars that Hawking will spend his professional life trying to explain.
Hawking is also rapidly establishing himself as a genius at school.
Things are going well, then Hawking has a fall that takes him to the hospital. There he learns that he has a degenerative disease, and only two years to live.
Stephen falls into a funk and pushes everyone out. But Jane, always head strong, pushes her way back into Stephen's life. She insists on being a part of his life, even if it is only two years, because she loves him.
Anyone who knows Hawking's story knows that he got a little more than 2 more years of living. But how did his condition affect his relationship with the love of his life? That is the focus of this movie.
Who Would Like it and Why
Romantics and fans of character studies. The movie and the writing was disciplined in that it stuck to examining the relationship between these two complex people.
They both had attributes and faults that helped and hindered their relationship. The movie showed Hawking to be a bit full of pride and ego. We see Jane becoming jealous of the attention Hawking gets. She also feels isolated as she is basically a single parent left to take care of three . . . well make that four helpless children.
These stresses wear on Jane just as a handsome stranger enters her life. . .
What I liked about this movie is that it read more like a romance novel. It stayed true to the details of the relationship. Hawking's fame and his work played second fiddle to the mechanics of how he got along with Jane.
Who Might not Like it and Why
I think it could have been tightened up in the middle. It started to become a bit of a regular old bio pic, as we see Hawking growing older and more famous.
Summer dresses were replaced with conservative skirts for Jones, who was supposed to be aging. Her hair also became much shorter the more frustrated she became in the relationship. When Jane meets her handsome stranger is where the movie began to lag. That could have been edited a little more precisely.
The beginning of the movie was absolutely glorious. Much, it would seem, like the beginning of Hawking's adult life. Brilliant scientist passionately in love with a beautiful woman who gets him. This portion of the movie was idyllic and like an endless summer.
It also showed some of the physical splendor of England. As time went on though, everything became a little bit more tedious. But again, maybe this was a careful calculation and the director meant for things to unfold this way.
There were a few key ingredients in this movie that kept it moving though. First was the physical beauty of Felicity Jones, combined with her strong acting. The chemistry between Redmayne and Jones was electrifying in the beginning. Absolutely palpable.
Then there's Redmayne's acting, which garnered him a best actor Oscar statuette at this year's academy awards. The way he contorted his body must have taken months or possibly more than a year to master. And while he was able to capture Stephen's tortured condition, what was masterful was that Redmayne also managed to capture a bit of Hawking's great spirit -the spirit of a man who was given two years to live by medical professionals some forty years ago. Even though he can barely move his face, Redmayne gives Hawking flare, humor, playfulness, and I dare say a genuine joy of living despite his physical condition.
This takes me back to the beginning of the movie when the doctor is telling Stephen how he will slowly lose the use of all of his muscles. Hawking, with a steely glance, asks, "What about the brain?" The doctor assures him his brain will not degenerate. We can see, even then, that this gives Hawking hope for some sort of quality of life.
Kudos to Hawking for facing his adversities with dignity and flare. And congratulations to Redmayne for being able to capture Hawking's determination without full use of the actor's most prized his tool .. . his face.
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