Everett Collection
Keith Staskiewicz
March 21, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A Brief History of Time

Current Status
In Season
Errol Morris

We gave it a B+

In simple terms, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle contends that the mere act of observing something can have a qualitative effect on that thing. No one understands this phenomenon better than documentarian Errol Morris, whose 1988 film The Thin Blue Line ended up getting its subject off death row. Morris examined Heisenberg’s actual theory in his next nonfiction work, A Brief History of Time (1991, 1 hr., 24 mins., Not Rated), about another man on a quest for truth: celebrity physicist Stephen Hawking.

The film, which has been given a respectful new release by Criterion, is primarily a biography of a man constricted by his body even as his mind expands unfettered like the universe he has dedicated his life to understanding. But Morris also folds in aspects of Hawking’s kitchen-table cosmology: complex concepts made accessible by visualized metaphors of wristwatches and teacups. And if ever there were an appropriate use of a Philip Glass score, it’s here, reverberating majestically as Hawking’s synthesized narration ponders the fabric of our reality. The extras are more of a black hole than a supernova, but if the new Cosmos reboot on TV has you thirsting for more big-picture cogitation, this is the perfect place to start. B+

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