A truly great acting performance can’t be judged simply on the way a person delivers dialogue. It’s better to closely examine how an actor breathes life into a role without the benefit of life-saving words. That is what strips down a performance to its raw essence.
Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of genius Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” is brilliant. There is beauty in Redmayne’s physicality, which is magnified by the power of all the subtext he delivers in a single look.
The film, based on the autobiography by Hawking’s first wife, Jane, is a blend of a romance story and a poignant look at Hawking as he goes from an enthusiastic college student to the epitome of irony as a brilliant man trapped in the frailest of bodies.
Images of Hawking today are of his shriveled form draped into a wheelchair. But the motor neurone disease that brought him to his current shape didn’t begin to manifest itself until Hawking was 21 and attending the University of Oxford.
Braced by Jane’s (Felicity Jones) love and encouragement, Hawking not only survives decades beyond the two years he was supposed to live, but he becomes one of the greatest minds in human history.
Part of the film focuses on Hawking dealing with his physical problems, going from despair to determination. It’s in this part of the story where director James Marsh guides Redmayne into memorable moments.
In one scene, Hawking is speaking to a group when a young woman in the front row drops her pen. In his mind, he stands, walks to her and retrieves the pen. Watching Redmayne unfold himself from the twisted shape he has taken to play Hawking is an amazing look behind the physics of acting. It’s acting’s version of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, that is if the butterfly was trying to make a point about the uncertainties and ironies of life.
As for the equally compelling romantic scenes, the awkwardness Redmayne shows as a young Hawking is balanced by the way Jones plays Jane with confidence and compassion. Great romances work when both parties come together to create one passionate soul. Jones and Redmayne have found that beautiful place.
Redmayne is sure to be a contender for an Oscar nomination. But while his work is superb, it’s magnified by what Jones brings to the mix. She also deserves to be included in any Oscar talk.
There are times when the screenplay by Anthony McCarten takes “The Theory of Everything” into an intellectual stratosphere that can be dizzying. The story quickly returns to a more grounded level through the most basic of all tales: two people in love.
It’s a captivating story about one of the most fascinating people on the planet, punctuated by Redmayne’s special performance. “The Theory of Everything” is a no-brainer when it comes to Oscar talk.