The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
Running time: 123 minutes
The Imitation Game
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley
Running time: 114 minutes
What does it mean to be a genius? That’s the question the week’s two new Hollywood releases raise. The Theory of Everything (which looks at acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking’s relationship with his first wife Jane) and The Imitation Game (about cryptographer Alan Turing’s efforts during World War II to break the Nazi code machine Enigma) share striking similarities — they’re both about brilliant Englishmen, each grappling with personal challenges, aided (in different measure) by strong women.
The films’ leading men, Benedict Cumberbatch (Turing in Imitation Game) and Eddie Redmayne (Theory’s Stephen Hawking) are friends. In fact, Cumberbatch had played Hawking in a BBC film in 2004. On a more superficial note, the supporting cast of both films features well-known actors from the popular TV show Game of Thrones: Charles Dance channels his inner Tywin Lannister into his part of Commander Denniston in Imitation Game while Harry Lloyd (GOT’s Viserys Targaryen) has a small role as Hawking’s friend and colleague in Theory of Everything.
Despite all the similarities, however, Theory of Everything and Imitation Game are also remarkably different films.
Beginning with Hawking’s (rather short) time as a young, carefree and remarkably clever PhD candidate at Cambridge and his sweet, awkward flirtation with Jane Wilde (who later became his wife of nearly 30 years), Theory of Everything depicts the first shock of his ALS diagnosis, and the couple’s struggle to deal with his body’s steady degeneration.
Redmayne won the Best Actor Golden Globe for his performance as Hawking, and it is every bit deserved. He plays Hawking as charming, witty and impossibly sweet — the rare moments of anger, frustration or sorrow that he lets himself express, as his body fails, are heart-wrenching — and he presents a persona that goes beyond the powerful brain that authored A Brief History of Time.
While Redmayne shines, his co-star Felicity Jones also puts up a competent performance as Jane Wilde Hawking. Surprisingly for a film that is based on a biography by the real-life Jane, not enough screen time is devoted to her point of view. There are some passing references to her frustration as the responsibility of caring for their three children, her husband and the home puts her own dreams on the back-burner, how she puts aside her romantic feelings for another man only to be superseded in Hawking’s life by his nurse Elaine Mason.
While his physical and personal circumstances deteriorate, however, Hawking’s mind remain unfettered, and in one of the moving scenes in the film, he describes what keeps him going: “There should be no boundaries to human endeavour. We are all different.
However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
Hawking’s message is one Alan Turing might have wanted to hear. In Imitation Game, he struggles with his different-ness — where Hawking, despite his severe disabilities, is at ease with people, Cumberbatch’s Turing is the quintessential socially isolated genius; where Hawking has a keen sense of humour, Turing never understands a joke. While
Hawking’s story (even when focusing on his wasting illness) is ultimately uplifting, Turing’s has a tragic outcome. That James Marsh’s direction of Theory of Everything is so deft, sensitive, and filled with beauty makes Morten Tyldum’s helming of Imitation Game — and its protagonist — seem much patchier in contrast.
Imitation Game is also hampered a little by the star power of its lead actors — while Cumberbatch does a fine job, he is perhaps too well fixed in the minds of the audience now as another eccentric genius, Sherlock Holmes. The film’s other star, Keira Knightley (Turing’s code-cracking colleague and fiancée) barely makes an impression. Still, as a celebration of a man who was persecuted for a personal choice (Turing was homosexual at a time when it was illegal in England; he underwent chemical castration in lieu of
serving jail time after being prosecuted for it) when he should have been celebrated as a hero for helping his nation to victory, shortening the War by an estimated two years, saving millions of lives and even effectively laying the foundation of the modern computer — the film is a must watch.
In the end, both Theory of Everything and Imitation Game address in varying ways the question — must you always pay a price for being so much more gifted than the average human being? Does all genius come at a cost? And if it meant that you could make a lasting contribution to the world, what would you be willing to pay?...