(director: Errol Morris; screenwriter: from the book A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking; cinematographers: John Bailey/Stefan Czapsky; editor: Brad Fuller; music: Phillip Glass; Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Hickman; Paramount Home Entertainment; 1991)


“It’s accessible, informative and entertaining.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A documentary by Errol Morris (“The Thin Blue Line”/”Vernon, Florida”/”Gates of Heaven”) that is about the life and work of the remarkable cosmologist Stephen Hawking, that is based on his best selling book of 1988. It’s accessible, informative and entertaining, and includes extensive interviews with the then 50-year-old Hawking, his family members, colleagues, caretakers, scientists (such as Roger Penrose, Dennis Sciama and John Wheeler) and also colorful graphics to advance Hawking’s theories on the universe. The film blends together facts of his life while touching on some of his theories, but only advancing each in a limited way leaving some viewers hankering for more of each. Which some view as a flaw of the film, but I disagree. If you want more weight about his theories try tackling his difficult book and see if you don’t find this film a needed lightweight companion.

The film throws out several big questions in its opening, such as Where did the universe come from? Will time ever come to an end? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? and discusses them in a cursory way without fully answering these questions but giving us enough feedback into these unanswerable imponderables to get us thinking big thoughts.

Hawking was diagnosed as having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the United States) shortly after attending Cambridge in the mid-1960’s to work on his Ph.D. in theoretical physics. The progressive and incurable illness soon left him almost completely paralyzed except for his lungs, heart and brain. At present Hawking communicates to the outside world through a computer whose commands activate a voice synthesizer.

The audience for this insightful scientific themed documentary are probably those cheered on that Hawking so bravely deals with his severe illness and those who care about such things as the Big Bang theory, black holes, quantum mechanics, unified theory, Hawking’s rebuttal to Einstein’s belief that God doesn’t play dice with the universe, Hawkin’s belief in the possible existence of a supreme being as a creator (suggesting that if we could look into the mystery that signals the precise beginning of the universe then we will begin to understand the unfathomable because we would be looking into the mind of God) and sundry other important scientific puzzlers.

A Brief History of Time (1991)