Sunday, 7 July 2013

EIFF 2013: Hawking

“Imagine coming to the end of questions” expresses Mary Hawking – younger sister of cosmologist Stephen – towards the end of this eponymous documentary. She’s referring to her brother’s restless curiosity; an inquisitiveness that helped the Oxford-born physicist overcome severe health problems to become one of science’s most celebrated thinkers. For Stephen to stop contemplating the universe in all its mystery and glory is, she suggests, impossible; there’s simply too much he hungers to know. Unfortunately, viewers may share this feeling of unanswered questions come Hawking’s end credits: for all its wealth of detail, Stephen Hawking the man remains somewhat unknown.

Co-written and narrated by Hawking himself, this elusiveness is possibly traceable to its subject’s conflicted relationship with his own celebrity: having been stung by false press and dogged by concerns that his public profile is as much a consequence of his disability as his academic genius, a reluctance to open up emotionally is understandable. To director Stephen Finnigan’s credit, however, this absence doesn’t damage the film’s overall appeal, with Hawking’s sharp wit foregrounded and his accomplishments vividly catalogued.

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