A Brief History of Time (1991)
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At first the style of the film seemed ordinary, typical short interviews. But the experience grows on you. Partly this is due to a haunting film score by Philip Glass but mostly because of the amazing life and ideas of Stephen Hawking. Step by step we are led up a ladder of more amazing concepts. At the same time we are always reminded of the physical struggle of this man, how he has more than endured but triumphed.
I don't recall having heard of Hawking before this film, mainly because I was fresh out of high school and carefree at the time. However, I am now well versed in many of his theories, and althought I disagree with many of his opinions, I still find him to be one of the most amazing individuals of our time. Simply, his willpower is enough to put us all to shame, and his cosmic imagination is unfathomable.
A Brief History of Time should be required viewing for anyone with any interests outside of mundane popular culture. I also recommend it if you are a writer, a thinker, or an admirer of cosmology. Anyone can enjoy this film, and I hope that you enjoy it as much has I have. We need more films like this at the theaters! Please?
You will find yourself in awe of Hawking's mind, and justifiably so. It would be truly remarkable if we could find a way to venture into his brain and feel the pleasure he takes in what so many of us find abstract.
The biography of this remarkable man is just as interesting as his research. Told in documentary fashion through interviews with family and friends, we see his development from a precocious child to a mischievous youth to remarkable adult. Also, we have the chance to meet Mr. Hawking himself, who is very personable with quite a sense of humor.
I strongly recommend reading the book A Brief History of Time to accompany the film...it picks up where the film leaves off regarding the sciences, and is less biographical, except for his brief summaries of such luminaries as Newton and Galileo.
Featuring interviews with the Hawkings (Isobel and Mary Hawkings, Stephen's mom and sister, respectively), Janet Humphrey (Stephen's aunt), several people related to the world of science (astrophysicists, professors, researchers, etc.), plus interviews and clips from lectures with Mr. Hawkings himself, we reflect on some of the most fundamental questions about our creation. The beyond reasonable, sensible and bright conclusions presented by this man whose body might be paralyzed, but whose mind is one of the greatest of all time (few would argue against this statement) make this film both a fascinating lecture (or, even better, meditation) and an inspirational life story. And with his fantastic reasoning and suavity, Hawkings ends up proving (as far as reasoning can prove, or define, the power of faith), the very existence of God. A great achievement of filmmaking, perception, philosophy, science, and perseverance. Bravo, Mr. Hawkings. Bravo, Mr. Errol Morris.
The film begins by telling of Hawking's childhood, and how he was a poor student that was recognizably bright. He slacked his way through college and university, where he was diagnosed with the disease that would take away normal functions of his body, but would allow him to continue living and thinking perfectly.
Morris discusses how the brilliant mind of Stephen developed from childhood to the present, at one point his mother tells how- when she was pregnant- she prophetically bought a astronomical atlas to read while in the hospital. Hawking himself narrates the timeline of his discoveries, while Morris interviews close friends and colleagues whom have been lucky enough to befriend the magnificent man.
He tells how he was first intrigued by the discovery that the Universe was expanding similar to how a star would expand. We also know that stars eventually die and become what is now known as "black holes", if this is the case,will the universe not too begin to contract, reversing itself until we reach the "big crunch"? as Hawking puts it. And when the universe does begin to recede, will time not "reverse"? When posed this question, I began to think that death may not be the end, perhaps one day time will go backwards, and our death will become our rebirth and our birth our death. The universe is one big cycle just like everything else in life.
This is what Hawking is telling us, everything in the universe recycles itself. This is completely logical and can make your mind wonder in a million directions pondering it. This is why i love this film and why isay it is a MUST SEE!!! An 11 out of 10 ...Morris never ceases toamaze!
The way the family members and professors are interviewed feels so unnatural. These members were interviewed on specifically built sets and were directed uncomfortably. Mostly, their accounts came across as very acted and forcefully directed. The (deliberate) non-inclusion of asked questions manipulates the given information into a very harsh and impersonal format.
I do not know who are responsibly for the interviewing but they did a dreadful job and with that took away from the viewing experience.
Overall still a fascinating documentary well worth seeing, if only for the interesting concepts presented.
The plot is a mixing of Stephen Hawking's Book of the same title intertwined with the man's life. The story is told through interviews with family, friends, and Hawkings himself.
Don't be fooled; It totally sounds boring but the whole package is dynamic and thought provoking. The blending of life and theories is seamless and thoroughly entertaining. I was particularly moved at how well they humanize this genius and omniscient man. Tho physically powerless, Hawking's greatness and shear brilliance is encapsulated into a real live human being that we are allowed to laugh at and aw over at the same time.
Find this movie. Watch it and enjoy. And if the studio who owns this picture reads this, A 15 year Anniversary edition would be perfect NOW...
The film is methodically directed, exposing details of the man (Hawking) as well as his work (Black Holes). Interviews with his family are a little too long so sadly there is less development of his theories and ideas.
A Philip Glass soundtrack superbly compliments the film. Only one other man could compose such haunting instellar melodies (Jean Michel Jarre).
Overall I would highly recommend this movie on the basis of Hawking's 'nuggets of wisdom' and his adequate explanation of an Event Horizon!
One does get a feel for Hawking's life from his childhood (really, from his birth) onward. I've always been something of a fan and admirer of Stephen Hwking - feelings that are enhanced today, quite honestly, by his willingness to make regular guest appearances on a TV show like "The Big Bang Theory." Aside from his TV appearances and his scientific research, Hawking is probably best known for being afflicted with ALS (in every day terms, Lou Gehrig's Disease.) What we learn from this movie (at least it was speculated by his mother) is that it was his ALS diagnosis that really motivated him in his work. Before the disease, he was a very bright but often unmotivated young man. Perhaps it was the prospect of having a limited time to live that made him what he is today - at least, that seems to be what's suggested here. This is an interesting look at his life - even very inspiring. If Hawking could overcome the challenges he faced and become what he's become, how can I complain about my relatively minor inconveniences? So the bio part of this movie is well done.
The scientific part of the movie I thought, though, was a little bit lacking, for two reasons - which are a little bit contradictory, I confess. First. a lot of what was offered was admittedly over my head. I could be impressed by Hawking's knowledge - but it's kind of like being impressed by anyone who says a lot about things you know little about. I have to accept that he's right, because I don't know enough to say he's wrong, or even to question his ideas - which, as one of the interviewees in the movie said, is the very heart of science. But I don't know enough to raise the questions. And yet, at the same time (and here's the contradictory part) while I may not have the knowledge to question what Hawking says or his theories, I also felt there was a little bit of a lack of depth to this. We hear a little bit about a lot of his theories - which is maybe all the average scientific lay person can even begin to process, but the lack of depth was still noticeable. He raises a lot of intriguing ideas - but they don't seem to come to any real definitive point. Perhaps that's appropriate, given his conclusions about the universe having no real singularity (and thus no real beginning) and the ongoing lack of the infamous "theory of everything." I shouldn't be bothered by the lack of depth - because if this had been any deeper it would have been even more inaccessible to me - but somehow I was.
Having said that, this was an interesting film. If I thought there might have been a lack of depth in the presentation of the science, the interviews that were at the heart of it (from family members, friends and colleagues) gave us real depth into Hawking the person. He's is an intriguing (even fascinating) man. I'm not onside with some of his conclusions. Admittedly (as I've confessed) my scientific knowledge about the origins of the universe is limited, but I still see nothing that was presented here (or that I've seen from Hawking since) that convinces me that there's no God. His research likely blows holes in some of the creation myths of various religions - but they are, of course, myths that seek to reveal truth rather than fact (and truth and fact are not identical - the former is philosophical, the latter is scientific.) Even one of his colleagues interviewed in the movie acknowledged that he personally believed that "the universe" has a "purpose" - which is a philosophical (and potentially even theological) statement. As a person of faith, I've always found that science (which I'm fascinated with) deepens faith rather than detracts from it.
In any event, this movie was one that I found thought provoking. Perhaps not without its weaknesses - but definitely thought-provoking. (7/10)
The distillation of scientific information is a tricky process, and I don't envy the film makers for tackling this project, because it must have been a real challenge to formulate and codify in an emotional vein Hawking's writings.
The film makers chose to portray the man in a hope of getting people to connect emotionally with his ideas, and in this way better understand what it is he discovered about the universe, and where such information might take us. I think this angle of attack partially successful, but perhaps lacking in the more mathematical underpinnings of Hawking's theories.
But that's just the way things are. Unlike Sagan, whose purpose with his films was to explain how science itself works, and the history behind the molding of the scientific process, we have Hawking's theory on, essentially, everything. Why the universe seems to "go" in one direction in terms of what we call "Time", and why things don't operate differently. Such a topic requires more of a sharper focus on the math and how that math describes the physical world. That's a tall order, and it's one the film maker's adroitly side step in this piece.
Still, I enjoyed the film for what it is, and I truly hope to own a copy on DVD someday. Until then I'll have to look to my old VHS for a night's entertainment on Hawking's theory of life, the universe... and EVERYTHING! (with a nod to Douglas Adams).
Take if for what it is, an emotional retrospective on the genius that is Stephen Hawking.
I hope this film didn't leave any hardcore physicist type behinds when it actually presented the story of Hawking as a person and not an educational lecture on the specifics of quantum mechanics; of course this was never the goal of the film. It's about Hawking. Not QM.
The film is not a technical masterpiece: basic documentary techniques are used. Few to no frills. Talking heads, basic photograph slideshows, b-roll, and a tiny, tiny handful of mood shots. The filmmakers have called attention to the edits on the interviews by leaving a split second of blackspace between the cuts. I consider this a sign of respect to the audience's intelligence. (That comment might not make much sense unless you've cut interviews).
The Philip Glass soundtrack is beautiful and perfect. It is, if anything, too minimal... but layering drama strings over the telling of these stories too much would probably be trite. It's not outside the realm of possibility, in my mind, that more soundtracking of the interviews might have been attempted and it was decided that it was cheapening the film.
I kind of suspect--and this is completely reckless, baseless speculation; I could be completely wrong on this--his real question is not "how" or "when" did the universe begin... but "WHY" did the universe begin--that is, if it "began" at all. I might regret going out on that limb and have to retract the statement, but it's just this feeling I'm starting to get having familiarized myself with his works and now, thanks to this film, a glimpse of who he is as a person.
To me, Hawking's true genius lies mostly in his ability to give the ideas of quantum mechanics to everyone. This film is amazing and uplifting, and Hawking is triumphant on many levels.
This should be aired at least once a year on cable channels as an example - along side Ken Burns admirable work with figures of the past - of how enthralling a documentary on a living subject can be, and be available on a reissued DVD for every college library in the country. Why only 9 our of 10? I wish the film itself were longer and the "Woody Allenish" type on the year cards which index the milestones in Hawking's life and thought were a bit bigger - but these are mere quibbles. The film is both emotionally warm and intellectually wonderful. See it if you can.
Errol Morris never fails to find the best subjects and turn his camera on the right people. I love that he was able to find someone who said that Hawking had come from a "very eccentric" but "highly intelligent" family, with Stephen actually the most normal. Who would believe that? Thanks to Criterion, the film is now (2014) available on Blu-Ray, and just as important as ever. Hawking is still alive (defying the odds) and his theories are coming under attack from the next generation. Can he hold on to his legendary status?
According to Errol Morris's equally curious and coolly, visually dazzling portrait in A Brief History of Time, Hawking was already brilliant, in spurts (when other Oxford students were faced with daunting algebraic equations, he answered more than three times the amount in an hour's time), but when faced with challenges, mostly from other theories by other scientists, he bounced back with his own. Beneath some of the complex scientific talk- and if you got any less than a B- in astronomy, like me, you'll need to keep your ears especially perked up in explanations of time's possible infinity or the peculiarities of the black hole- there's a human being who just wants to enjoy his goose on his birthday.
Morris captures Hawking just right for those who can't get enough of his theories on how particles may be going in and out of a black hole, or if there is even a creator or not depending on how much one takes into account Einstein and time. But he also captures the back-story on the man and his condition, which creates this as something much more interesting than if Morris had done one or the other. Too much talk about the cosmos would make one's head hurt, and too much about his personal life and one might wonder what all the fuss is about this bloke who's book of the film's title was on bestseller lists for over five years.
Almost in spite of his appearance, Hawking defines what it is to be a conscious entity in a universe which, he observes, he won't be apart of if and when the universe goes kaput another 10 billion years from now. Through it all, in A Brief History of Time, we get a glimpse of a genius and his humility (not to mention his colleagues and family's' ten cents here and there) through an unfathomably hypothetical and mathematical thought process of the universe.