A Brief History of Time

Can the study of black holes and other fairly recent cosmological discoveries be explained in a way that the layman can understand? Probably not, though Stephen Hawking makes a game attempt in this 1992 Errol Morris documentary on the famous scientist’s life and work.

Hawking always begins his explanations with gentle patience, but quickly reaches a point where the abstractions start to pile up in an alarmingly disjunctive manner. Anyway, the real question here is how aware was Morris of the eerie resonance of the central image of the film, a man paralyzed in a wheelchair and unable to speak except via computer, explaining his theories concerning whether or not all things come to a halt. Hawking is always presented as a triumph of the human spirit, which I suppose he is, but more compelling is the idea of a piercing intelligence trapped inside a virtual statue, scanning his perceptions for a grand analog to his own condition. That’s the movie’s unwitting subtext: Don’t feel sorry for Hawking – a worse fate awaits us all.

When Hawking talks about "the mind of God," it sounds like a bunch of bunk, but when he says time will probably stop, it sounds like a fair warning.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

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