A Brief History of Time (1991)

brief history of time poster 1991 movie documentary
8.0 Overall Score

Does a good job of telling the story and aspects of theories

Difficult challenge to make a film about Hawking's theories

Movie Info

Movie Name: A Brief History of Time

Studio:  Amblin Entertainment

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s): October 1991 (US Premiere)

MPAA Rating: G

brief history of time chicken and the egg

Chicken or egg…or deadly space chicken?

What is time and what does humans’ concept of time come from?  Is it created?  Is it inherent?  Can time move forward and backwards or is it completely linear?  Stephen Hawking explored some of these ideas in the 1988 book A Brief History of Time…but where did Hawking even get the idea to explore time and what in his life made him look to the stars?

Directed by Errol Morris, A Brief History of Time is a documentary biopic science film.  The movie premiered in Los Angeles in October of 1991 but received a larger launch the following year.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #699).

I know very little about physics and very little about Hawking (I hardly think seeing him cameo in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, and seeing biopic-drama The Theory of Everything hardly makes me feel I “know” him).  With that in mind, approaching A Brief History of Time is a little daunting despite its relatively short runtime.

brief history of time stephen hawkings school photos

Figuring out the meanings of the cosmos…or just goofing off?

While the movie does a lot to explain Hawking’s view and how evolved it, it isn’t necessarily a science-explanation documentary.  The film spends a lot of time exploring Hawking’s life, his studies, and the discovery of his ALS diagnosis that radically changed his life.  If you are thinking you can pick up the documentary as a substitute for the book, think again.

It still faces the problem of a rather heavy (and as indicated by multiple scientists interviewed) largely interpretational theories that sometimes struggle to be proven.  The concept of black holes largely come from movies like The Black Hole and Interstellar (it was great to see The Black Hole make a cameo), and it is surprising to learn that the term black hole is relatively new in the grand scheme of things.  Still the idea of what occurs as a person approaches a black hole isn’t something that is easy to wrap your head around.

brief history of time stephen hawking

What does time do and how does it work?

The documentary is rather stylishly shot, but it is rather traditional.  It mixes interviews with Hawking, his family, and colleagues and friends and in that sense, it does a good job of trying to make Hawking a person instead of just the person whose pop culture reference followed him.  It also mixes these interviews with graphs and visuals that demonstrate what an astrophysicist might look at and what it conceptually means.

A Brief History of Time isn’t as intimidating as it might seem, but it doesn’t mean you’ll walk away with a PhD in black holes.  In fact, it leaves you lost at points as you try to remember what was said in previous segments about the laws that govern space, etc.  This provides and interesting parallel to Hawking’s work.  A book allows you to go back easily and even skip forward…even dumbed down Hawking’s ideas aren’t easy to understand, but take a chance and try to understand a man whose depth of knowledge is matched by few.

Related Links:

The Theory of Everything (2014)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response