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Theory of Everything: Theory of Love and Time
For the love of ‘Time’
In the very beginning, Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair was spinning to the opposite direction of the clock and then the scene dissolves in the bicycle wheels that was moving clockwise. So that can be called as a brilliant start. The center point of Stephen Hawking’s work is time. He is obsessed with time; it’s birth, it’s flow and it’s nature.
When Jane took off the glasses from Stephen’s eyes and said, ‘Your glasses are always dirty’, Stephen could only stare with his glimmering eyes from the wheelchair. The same sentence was uttered by Jane 27 years before and the situation was totally different then. Stephen was standing and Jane had to put herself on toes to kiss him. The movie apparently consists of many déjà vu situations where almost same things were happening and the only difference was- time.
Time changes many things but the saddest of all changes, maybe, is human mind.
Why you need to forget the legend while watching
Narrating the movie as biopic would be distracting. Audience may (and it happened) focus their attention more on finding resemblance to facts they already know about the living legend. But so far, the movie is not about the scientific endeavor but it is about the emotional journey that Stephen Hawking experienced for a certain period of time.
Let’s examine how the movie was composed. Long fade outs have sharply divided this five act movie, each lengths more or less 25 minutes. Here is a very brief description of the acts.
Act 1: The genius Stephen falls in love and simultaneously builds a dream to look for one unique equation that answers all. With all his enthusiasm and excitement, one day he collapses and soon it is discovered that his days are numbered.
Act 2: Stephen tried to isolate himself from the world but Jane stood beside him. Despite everyone’s discouragement, she marries him. Inspired and reenergized, he completes his PHD. His physical condition deteriorates day by day and becomes more dependent on Jane. But his focus to discover the history of time remains sharp and he amazes some great physicists with his presentation of new concept.
Act 3: Bearing Stephen and kids becomes so much pressure for Jane and she is showing signs of impatience. In the mean time she finds some relief in the friendship of Jonathon, her choir teacher. Eventually they grew feelings for each other.
Act 4: Jane decides to control herself as Stephen became very ill and fell into a coma. Again, the doctor’s prediction of numbered days are proven wrong but at the cost of Stephen’s voice. Under pressure, Jane assigns a nurse named Elaine and Stephen falls for her. Jane and Stephen breaks up with tears.
Act 5: Stephen’s book is now a hit and he is famous. Jane gets a letter and joins Stephen to visit the Queen.
So, not a chance for exploring one thousand other intriguing facts about the living legend. The storyline set its course to tell a sweet romantic story that is incidentally taken from the life of Stephen Hawking.
Character built up, characters not
Much have already told about Eddie Redmayne who had undergone a 4 months training to act like Stephen Hawking that included learning physics and neurology. No doubt, he has shown some excellent performance of recent times. Felicity Jones was equally vibrant to portray the nuanced character. She had the privilege to observe real Jane very closely. Two main characters take all our attentions quite justifiably. But what about the other characters? There were real weakness seen in building some.
Brian: The movie started with him racing against Stephen on the bike. He was even the roommate and portrayed as one of the closest. But he simply disappeared from one stage. If that was how it happened, was it necessary to keep the character on the script?
Stephen’s mother: When Stephen was choking and Jane was thrusting to get the piece of food out, his mother was just sitting there with very amateurish expression.
Siblings of Stephen: Other than the launch table in the very beginning, no sign of them during the crisis.
Children of Stephen: Children’s relation with their dad would add up the plot quite powerfully but unfortunately that part was missed.
Dennis Sciama: His character was one of the weakest one, who seemed to be present just to give Stephen plea to utter some assigned dialogues.
Elaine: This character was as vital as Jonathon but did not get chance to develop as him. At least, her point to fall for Stephen should be prominent.
Floppy Scene Build Ups
For a master storyteller, building up scenes comes in more organic way; they don’t shout to declare their purposes. If they do, they become floppy; and the movie has showed some bad example of that.
The Act 1 of the movie seemed progressing in real hurry, where events were rushing in abnormal pace. When Stephen and Brian reached the party and after Jane finished her most foreseeable conversations about scientists, the two protagonists met and started getting along. First five minutes was about the legend’s love, then seven minutes for the legend’s ingenuity. The first act ends at 28th minute, when the protagonist’s dream of sorting out a unique equation was at stake with doctor’s assumption of numbered days. Mostly because of the imperativeness and failure in building up Stephen’s passion, the scene where lonely Stephen sitting in hospital corridor was bit apathetic.
The act was dealing one plot only and so showed Stephen in every scene, every shot. That caused rising a bit monotony at the viewer’s end. The second act also continued the legacy where Stephen was finding new hope along with new life in every scene and every shot. The first conflict of the characters was underway to reveal on around 56th minute (middle of the act 3) when Jane started to look stressed and in next 3 minutes, she met Jonathon. Actually, the story started intensifying from then only.
Screenplay: Excellent Dialogues Bad Dialogues
Anthony McCarten was very brave to start writing the screenplay without any assurance of moving it on screen. Jane’s memoir moved and encouraged him to adapt it to a screenplay; level of enthusiasm can be quite apprehended. So every criticism should first pay the due respect that he deserves.
What is most spectacular of the screenplay is the dialogues. Apparently there are no traditional sentence-to-sentence connection between two dialogues but that is where the beauty lies. Consider the scene where Stephen meets Jane for the first time-
Stephen: English? (CHUCKLES)
Jane: French and Spanish… What about you? What are you...
Stephen: Oh, cosmologist, I'm a cosmologist.
Jane: What's that?
Stephen: It's a kind of religion for intelligent atheists.
Jane: Intelligent atheists?
Stephen: Mmm-hmm. You're not religious, are you?
Jane: C of E.
Stephen: Church of England?
Jane: England, yeah. (CHUCKLES)
Stephen: I suppose someone has to be.
Jane: What do cosmologists worship, then?
Stephen: What do we worship? One single unifying equation that explains everything in the universe.
Jane: What's the equation?
Stephen: That is the question.
The playfulness is intensified with these types of dialogues and maybe it is the dream of every screenwriter to write this kind of perky conversation.
But there is other side of the story too where dialogues can’t hold the magnet enough; rather appears as predictable. Second example is taken from psychologically intense situation where Jonathon joins dinner with Stephen and Jane. Here kind of tension was hanging in the air that was very much subtle. Yet, the conversation was about the complex scientific theories. Let’s look at the crafting of the dialogues-
Jonathon: Stephen, Jane was telling me that you have a beautiful, uh, theorem. Um... That proves that the universe, um, had a beginning. Is that it?
Stephen: That was my PhD thesis. My new project disproves it.
Jonathon: Uh, disproves it? Oh.
Jonathon: Um, so then you no longer believe in the creation?
Stephen: What one believes is irrelevant in physics.
Jane: "Irrelevant in physics."
Jonathon: Oh. (CLEARING THROAT) I see.
Up to this part, the conversation seems to introduce two different poles to the audience. But eventually, the discussion became pretentious and it was kind of unripe to let the viewers know about Hawking’s works. And to make it worse, the lecture was delivered mostly by Jane as Hawking’s speech has already become inaudible.
Jane: Stephen's done a U-turn. The big new idea is that the universe has no boundaries at all. No boundaries, no beginning.
Jonathon: And no God. Oh. Oh, I see. I... (CHUCKLES) I thought that, um, you'd proved the universe had a beginning and thus a need for a creator. (CHUCKLES) My mistake.
Stephen: No, mine.
Jane: Stephen is looking for a single theory that explains all the forces in the universe. Therefore, God must die.
Jonathon: Oh, uh, why must God die? I don't see.
Jane: The two great pillars of physics are quantum theory, the laws that govern the very small particles, electrons and so on, and general relativity.
Jonathon: Ah, yes, Einstein.
Jane: Einstein's theory, the laws that govern the very large planets and such. But quantum and relativity...
Jonathon: Don't tell me. They're different?
Jane: They don't remotely play by the same rules. If the world were all potatoes, then, easy. You could trace a precise beginning as Stephen once did. A moment of creation. Hallelujah. God lives. If you incorporate peas into the menu, well, then it all goes a little...
Stephen: Tits up.
Jonathon: Oh. (CHUCKLING)
Jane: Yes. Haywire. It just all becomes a godless mess.
Jonathon: Oh, dear. (CHUCKLING)
Jane: Einstein hated peas. Quantum theory. He said, "God doesn't play dice with the universe."
Stephen: Seems he not only plays dice, but he throws them where we can't find them.
Jane: God is back on the endangered species list.
Jonathon: (CHUCKLING) Well, I expect he'll cope.
Stephen: And physics is back in business.
Jane: Yes. Physics is back in business.
Maybe the intention was showing that Jane has made herself familiar with all the complex theories of Stephen’s and he can now sit back and let her explain about the universe to a newbie. And another purpose was subtle on the screen; Jane is not enjoying the explanation. Even the intentions and purposes are alright, these dialogues certainly were not playing with a full deck. Presumably, Jonathon did not go to ask the difference between ‘potato’ and ‘pea’.
Who shot the home videos?
At some points of the movie, handheld home video like images popped up. The first occasion was Stephen’s marriage; the second one was introduction of electric wheel chair; and third one was Jonathon’s getting along with the Jane’s family.
Could the director, James Marsh, justify the insertion of the images? The answer can be find with another question. Who shot those? For the first occasion, it can’t be revealed. The second one might be shot by Jane and again third one remains unanswered. As a viewpoint is not established, those grainy images can be read as gimmick and the director did not have much in the movie to defend it.
Cinematography: Have Tinted Scenes Really Conveyed the Mood?
From interviews, it is already known that the cinematographer Benoît Delhomme took Krzysztof Kieślowski’s ‘Three color trilogy’ as reference and used very strong colors and light to define moods. Maybe he tried to experiment a bit but images could have been much better. Flickers and plastic looks in different scenes seemed annoying sometimes. Same mood showed different colors and lights in different situations.
Make ups was not the best part of the movie by any means. To cut to chase, just look at the comparison of the make ups of the characters over time.