Everybody loves a flawed genius: they remind us what remarkable achievements humans are capable of, whilst simultaneously reinforcing that they are only that, human.
One of the most enduring literary characters is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes. And it is a telling statistic that he is the most portrayed character ever in film: which can only point to the conclusion that people are rather fond of him. Similarly, the popularity of The Big Bang Theory, and Sheldon Cooper’s gradual progression toward social ‘normality’, is another more recent example; that so far as storytelling goes, it’s a lasting blueprint.
It is therefore no surprise that the true stories of socially awkward, or otherwise flawed geniuses are popular amongst film makers. They are the type of tales people want to hear, made more outstanding by the simple fact that they actually happened.
Already this year we have seen the tale of one British phenomenon, Alan Turing, brought back to life in The Imitation Game. Turing’s story was tragic: one of extraordinary achievement and horrendous persecution. But with The Theory of Everything, we have a different story, one that is both unimaginable, yet much more familiar.
We witness the personal triumphs of Stephen Hawking, but also the terrible effects of his motor neurone disease. Eddie Redmayne is superb, and the way in which he controls his performance is hugely impressive. But what James Marsh realised is, that although Hawking’s academic and personal achievements are truly remarkable, it was his social interactions that would give the Theory of Everything its clout.
The film is such a success, because it remains human. Hawking’s friends continue to give him stick, and don’t allow his condition to become a hindrance, but a source of jokes: whilst Hawking himself retains his sense of humour throughout. As well as providing the audience with a form of reprieve from the serious matters at hand, the use of humour helps remind us that no matter what people have been through, by and large they remain the same.
Just as pivotal and significant to the success of the film, is Jane. Felicity Jones really is very, very good and her role is much more subtle. Without a successful Jane, the film would only ever be half-full. She must transform from a slightly shy and innocent undergrad, into a woman whose love, strength and dedication, allow Stephen to have the closest thing possible to a normal life, a family. She is the grounding in reality that gives the film its heart, as she struggles to care for her husband, her children, and to have some kind of existence of her own. It is impossible to compare the two performances, but there’s part of me that leans toward Jones’.
It is a compelling part of the Hawking story, but one that it is very easy to overlook. Few will have thought of Stephen Hawking’s wife and children, and only ever thought of him as one of the worlds greatest ever minds. It is a famous story made endearing, not by its singularity, but by its normality.
The approach of Oscar season means that any film which is entertaining, or with a half-decent performance by a popular actor, will get blown out of proportion. But The Theory of Everything is not one of those and is fully deserving of the praise it has received. Marsh deserves a lot of credit, because whether The Theory of Everything is successful during award season or not, it will win something much more important: it will win your heart.