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Brief History of Time showcases Hawking's vision

A Brief History of Time
Directed by Errol Morris.
Based on the book by Stephen Hawking.
Presented by the Lecture Series Committee.
26-100, April 7, 7 p.m.

By Eric Richard
Staff Reporter

Errol Morris, director of the motion picture A Brief History of Time, has succeeded in producing an entertaining and yet insightful documentary on a subject which most people considered impossible to portray. Although the film is said to be "based on Stephen Hawking's best-selling book," it is much more than just a documentary on the theories and work of Hawking documented in his book, providing a glimpse of Stephen Hawking as a person as well as as a physicist.

The movie progresses as a series of provocative questions into the nature of our universe interspersed among anecdotes about Hawking's life told by his friends, his family, and his colleagues. Morris explained this style, saying "I think that I have been able to run two stories next to each other ... which enriched each other." Through these anecdotes one gets a picture of how others look at Hawking. In one story, a peer of Hawking's at Oxford explains how one day he and his friends came to understand that because of Hawking's sheer brilliance, "not only were we not on the same street, we weren't even on the same planet."

Viewers come to know Hawking's personality best through his own narrations about his life and its influences. He talks about his schooling at Oxford and later work at Cambridge University, constantly showing his sense of humor and providing a comfortable atmosphere for the audience to get closer to him. Watching the historical chronology of Hawking's life played next to his narrations of the ideas he held at the time, one is able to get a clear picture of how Hawking's life has influenced his work and his ideas.

Morris' choice to not focus on Hawking's debilitating Atrophic Lateral Sclerosis must be commended. It allows viewers to get past that aspect of Hawking and come closer to understanding who he really is. The movie gives a picture of Hawking as a brilliant, witty, and high-spirited individual.

As the movie progresses, the focus shifts from Hawking as a person to Hawking as a physicist. By providing clear, easy-to-understand explanations, Hawking makes it possible for the layperson to understand his views on the nature of time, the Big Bang, the quantum effects involved in Hawking radiation (the particles emanating from black holes), and the possible existence of a supreme being.

However, Hawking most certainly does not answer all of these questions. Throughout the movie, he presents questions for the viewer to ponder such as "How real is time?" "Will it ever come to an end?" and "Why does the universe go through the bother of existing?"

The musical score for the movie, written by Phillip Glass, accentuated the movie's emotional highs and lows well and added to a feeling of the mystery of the universe.

By the end of the movie, the viewer has a broad understanding of who Steven Hawking is, a basic knowledge of the nature of our universe, and plenty of questions to mull over in his or her mind.

After the screening, Morris provided the audience with the opportunity to ask questions. When asked what kind of audience he hoped for when the movie is released this summer, Morris replied, "I am never going to get a better-suited audience than this." Most of the questions asked involved particular stylistic choices that Morris made, as well as inquiries into the nature of working with an individual like Hawking. Although most of the 500 students who came for the screening left before the question-and-answer session, the students who remained seemed to have enjoyed the movie.

Morris had only kudos for Hawking and said, "I find it very difficult to be cynical about Stephen Hawking. He really is a hero."