Hawking Exhibits a Painstakingly Three-Dimensional View of the Genius Physicist’s Life


If he had wanted it, physicist Stephen Hawking could have been an enigma. His degenerative motor neuron disease was supposed to have ended his life before he reached 23 years old. Unable to speak, and capable of only the tiniest facial muscle twitches, he could have been a man of mystery, known only for the brilliance of the mathematics with which he described the universe—if not for his naturally gregarious and extroverted personality. “If the number of champagne receptions one goes to is a measure of success,” he says in the electronic voiceover narration of his new documentary, Hawking, “then it would seem that I have made it.” Hawking embraced his celebrity early, expanding it with his record-breaking bestseller, A Brief History of Time, and a string of television appearances that included talk shows, Star Trek, and The Simpsons. Director Stephen Finnigan, allowed unprecedented access to Hawking’s personal life, interviews his nurses, family, and the former doctoral students whose unusual working arrangements included bathing and feeding their mentor. But Finnigan wisely seizes on the gentle strength and charisma of Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde. She imprints on the film as fully as her former husband, whose presence is still considerable. Jane’s voice, demeanor, and often-painful reminiscences lend an emotional counterweight to the multitude of voices reminding us that Hawking is one of our great discoverers, on an intellectual plane with Galileo and Einstein.