Interstellar hurls Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway through space and time, but the real big bang coming from movie theaters this Thanksgiving will be the beating-heart sounds of The Theory of Everything, the season's most radiant tale of beauty and the brain–even the universe. To be clear, I have particular admiration for Interstellar, currently thrilling movie-goers across the planet and certain to haul a rocketship full of technical awards, but my deepest respect this holiday season lies with The Theory of Everything. As Anatole France wrote in 1894, "The wonder is, not that the field of stars (is) so vast, but that man has measured it." The man who, perhaps more than anyone else in our lifetime, has measured our stars and therefore ourselves, has been Stephen Hawking, the central figure of The Theory of Everything. The true hero--or to be more accurate, heroine--of this sublime film is Jane Wilde, the young woman who, in many ways, saved Hawking's life and is ultimately responsible for sharing his genius with the world--forever changing how we see the universe and one another. We're introduced to Jane (played by Felicity Jones) early in the film as she and a friend enter a 1963 party--to the soundtrack of Martha and the Vandellas singing "Heat Wave"--at Cambridge University. "Oh dear," the friend whispers into Jane's ear. "Scientists."
Jane thinks that's swell. She's strawberries-and-cream lovely and her frock and flip hairdo are adorable, but she finds "strange and clever" to be a kind of aphrodisiac—and she finds it embodied by the awkward, often unruly Cambridge student in the corner with the Buddy Holly eyeglasses. We're instantly transfixed by this little-known tale of the man who would soon enough be a prisoner of motor neuron disease, yet will unleash boundless theories and wonderments. The Stephen (played by Eddie Redmayne) we meet at the beginning of The Theory of Everything likes to slow-dance (certainly with Jane), is a coxman for the university rowing team and for all his geekiness, is quite the charmer. Unfortunately, anyone familiar with Hawking's physical state in 2014 knows where the story is heading for this strapping young man. Soon after being smitten by Jane, Stephen's speech unexpectedly becomes slurred, he begins to take dangerous falls and before long, destiny and disease rob him of his voice and ability to move of his own free will. Hawking was given no more than two years to live, but Jane would have none of that—their engagement to be married gives Stephen reason to live and ultimately flourish. His theories—quantum and otherwise—became the stuff of legend, and we would never think of the universe (or its creation) the same way again.
The Theory of Everything is a full-on love story. It has the same Oscar-plated hue as The King's Speech or A Beautiful Mind: well-crafted history with plenty of artistic license but always tasteful foundations. The Theory of Everything will break your heart six ways to Sunday (and mend it again) with its frequent and unexpected turns through Jane and Stephen's personal lives.
You may know Redmayne from his co-starring turns in Les Miserables and My Week with Marilyn, and Jones from her work in The Invisible Woman or PBS's Page Eight. They are utterly charismatic in their star-making performances and, trust me, you'll know them and want more from them in the future. They're brilliant and should expect an early wake-up call in January 2015 when the Motion Picture Academy doles out its Best Actor and Actress nominations. Jones has the less-showy role of the two, but she measures it with grace and as much precision as Hawking himself used to measure the universe.
"Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion," wrote Hawking in 2010. He was probably referring to Jane and the universe, in that order.