Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Theory of Everything (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Theory of Everything

Physicist Stephen Hawking is very much a popular and a pop art figure, deep within our consciousness. He has been on countless documentaries. He was a character on The Simpsons and he has appeared on recent Star Trek tv episodes. Much like Carl Sagan or Albert Einstein, Hawking has put a friendly and approachable face upon what is often dense, technical and hard to grasp: the subject of quantum mechanics.

Now, in "The Theory of Everything" by James Marsh (Man on Wire) we have a film that attests to the physicist's celebrity in our mind's eye, our curiosity and our hearts.

Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is a Phd student at Cambridge. He his quiet but not reserved. Hawking rides his bike with a manic intensity. He swills beer, plays pinball and has a cat-like ability to step on a chessboard and not disturb the pieces.

From the very first, his days are filled with locomotion.

At a party he meets the debutante Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) a literature student, and a connection is made even though Jane is a catholic and Stephen is an atheist.

One day, Hawking is jogging to his studies. He slips and tumbles to the hard, unforgiving pavement. His large black glasses crack like the windshield of a fighter plane. They tell him he has a motor-neuron disease, ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease) with two years to live.

He calculates forward, on and on.

The narrative is touching in its own right, but where the film really soars is  in its cinematography by Benoit Delhomme which puts Redmayne's  Hawking into a painterly post-impressionist landscape as colorfully eccentric as anything by Van Gogh or Toulouse Lautrec where fireworks spin like pinwheels and satin gloves vibrate and throb into blue stars. In its golden Easter tones, there is also something of Maxfield Parrish here or perhaps even Peter Pan of a sort. Of a man who in many ways was forced to transcend  the natural earth of things to trace the start of time.

The film does well also in showing Hawking the man, very driven and somewhat underhanded, secretive and disloyal in his personal life. As his marriage breaks in Jane's flirtation with Hawking's new aide Jonathan (Charlie Cox) a new assistant Elaine (Maxine Peake) comes on the scene. With the publication of Hawking's book it appears that the couple has patched things up. Alas, a button is pressed on Hawking's synthesizer which voices: I invited Elaine to come with me to America.

At the film's beginning,both he and Jane make cosmological valentines. Then comes resentment, a pregnancy with paternity in question accompanied by a gradual shoving off of intimacy, but never disrespect.The film clearly reveals the libidinous imp behind Hawking's winning smile.

Through it all, he races on, in great muscular tension with purgatorial  pulling and snapping, within a chair and without, while he strives to find an equation to explain not only the beginning of atoms, but the moment when they also may cease to be.

Even when his relationships implode, Hawking becomes a 20th century Blake's compass encircling our universe.

With "The Theory of Everything" James Marsh does as well with the somewhat quirky Hawking as he did with the French daredevil Philippe Petit. Here, Stephen Hawking is a very human and very witty man, just as romantic, calculating, nervy, and underhanded as he is iconic and myth-making.

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