Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane, once explained that as the years passed and her husband made new discoveries, their relationship evolved two faces. The public image was that of Stephen travelling around from lecture to lecture, picking up science awards and honours all over the place. But internally, their home life was being damaged. Hawking’s reluctance to be cared for by nurses, coupled with his determination to work and travel, started to suffocate the life out of their marriage. Now, Ben Bowie and Stephen Finnigan’s enlightening documentary Hawking (2013) travels deep into the psyche of the revered British physicist.
Written by Hawking himself, the film uses photos and videos as well as reconstructed scenes to timeline his brilliant and boundless mind. Born to academic parents, Hawking quickly showed signs of a fierce intellect, constantly questioning how things worked – a trait that would continue through his Oxford years. He was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease while still studying but was able to continue his research at PhD level before becoming completely incapacitated by his illness. It seemed that as his mind was travelling in one direction, his body was heading in another. At one point, as Hawking is struggling to button up his pyjama shirt, he realises what happens when two black holes collide and merge.
Hawking’s later innovations rocked the world of physics and threw light on many questions about how the Big Bang occurred (the short answer: it spontaneously formed itself, thus creating time and matter). The film balances the constant series of trade-offs the man has lived through; for every discovery there was a cost on his health. There’s much lyricism to be found in Hawking; the idea of a man retreating inside his mind to answer questions about our universe, questions that appear so far removed from the mind itself, is quite astonishing. It’s a lot like there’s a universe inside his own head, allowing him to travel infinitely to the borders of knowledge.
Bowie and Finnigan handle their subject sensitively and with great detail, identifying Hawking’s unrivalled spirit for life and discovery. His celebrity status didn’t happen overnight and it was by no means an accident that he became one of the most recognised scientists in the world. We are given a look behind closed doors in Hawking – as contemplative and illuminating as the questions posed within it.
The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.