Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hawking

Have you noticed we've seen a lot of documentaries this year? Although this is the sort of thing that ebbs and flows (like foreign films), this year may represent a sea change, in that our preferred local theater is showing dozens of them in short order, apparently due to requirements laid down by the Oscar folk.

They've probably been doing this for years, but with our former preferred theater shutting down, and The Boy's three-times-a-week habit, well, there's likely to be more in the future.

This one is particularly noteworthy not because it's about Stephen Hawking, but because it's an autobiographical documentary about Hawking.

He points out, off the bat, that people probably know him more as the guy in the wheelchair than with any understanding of what he's done to be a famous physicist. And, actually, after hearing him talk about what made him famous, I still don't get it.

In a nutshell, he broke into the scene by proving the Big Bang didn't need a God to make it happen. He did this with math, apparently. While I'm sure the math was brilliant, the Boy and I were sitting there thinking, "OK, but how did that get there, asshole?"

This is not entirely fair, of course. Scientists can't be answering questions with "God" any more than they can answer the question of "God", but Hawking's an avowed materialist and atheist—and perhaps not coincidentally, ruthlessly ambitious and concerned with worldly success.

In fact, I'm convinced that a non-insignificant part of his motivation making this is that he wants an Oscar.

Let's not be churlish: He's an interesting guy who brought astrophysics to the masses, which is no mean achievement, and he did so while suffering a debilitating disease that nearly killed him a couple of times.

The movie is part personal life, part career ambitions, and part—probably the smallest part—physics. Apart from the Big Bang thing, he lightly covers a couple of other big theories he had. But mostly it's about his life growing up, his wife and children, the writing of his book, the use of technology to make that talking chair thing, his divorce and post-divorce relationships, and all the various ways he's been feted in recent years.

Which is not boasting, it must be said: I'm not exactly hip but I could name quite a few Hawking references off the top of my head that they just didn't cover in the movie (probably due to lack of time).

However much the guy loves himself, though, the movie sticks to a manageable 90 minute length. Even so, toward the end it felt like it was wandering gratuitously into self-congratulation.

We did like it, though, the Boy and I. But it really shouldn't be in the running for an Oscar given the competition.

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