Enlarge /. Ars celebrates the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb with a look at how the intricate legacy of this world-changing event is reflected in film and television.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the first atomic bomb. Shortly before sunrise on July 16, 1945, in a remote location in a central New Mexico desert, a prototype bomb nicknamed "Gadget" was hoisted onto a 100-foot tower and detonated. The explosion vaporized the steel tower, creating a mushroom cloud that rose to more than 38,000 feet. The heat of the explosion melted the sandy soil around the tower into a slightly radioactive glass crust now known as "trinitite". And the shock wave broke windows up to 120 miles away.
After the Trinity Test, Richard Feynman recalled finding his colleague Robert Wilson, desperate in the midst of the celebration. "It's a horrible thing we did," Feynman recalled. As you know, Hans Bethe remarked: "Physicists have known sin. And this is knowledge that they cannot lose." It is often said that physicists have been so focused on the intellectual challenge of building an atomic bomb that they have lost sight of the profound implications of creating it.
These implications became all too evident on August 6, 1945, when a weapon-triggered fission bomb called "Little Boy" fell on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 70,000 to 130,000 people. Three days later, the implosion-induced "Fat Man" was dropped on Nagasaki and another 45,000 people were killed. The United States won the war, but at a terrible price. The prospect of a devastating nuclear apocalypse has struck the world since then – as has television and movies. On this dire occasion, we have compiled a watchlist of films to show that we best reflect the intricate legacy of the atomic bomb.
(Some spoilers below.)
<img alt = "Brian Donlevy, Henry O & # 39; Neill, Joseph Calleia and Hume Cronyn are preparing to test the first atomic bomb in The beginning or the end"src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/abomb14B-640×427.jpg "width =" 640 "height =" 427 "srcset =" https: //cdn.arstechnica .net / wp-content / uploads / 2020/06 / abomb14B.jpg 2x”/>Enlarge /. Brian Donlevy, Henry O & # 39; Neill, Joseph Calleia and Hume Cronyn prepare to test the first atomic bomb in The Beginning or the End
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Getty Images
The Beginning or the End (1947)
This docudrama may not be the best cinematic treatment of the development of the atomic bomb, but it is the first to be released just two years after "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" were used against Japan. Actress Donna Reed came up with the idea for the film after talking to her high school science teacher who was a chemist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves Jr. (played by Brian Donlevy in the film) served as the military advisor, and President Harry Truman himself delivered the title after meeting Reed and producer Samuel Marx. "Tell the people of this nation that it is the beginning or the end for them," Truman allegedly said.
The filmmakers did their best to maintain historically correct details, and nine of the actors who played the crew of Enola Gay were WWII veterans. However, a scene in which the bomber was maneuvering through bursting anti-aircraft projectiles was inaccurate, and many of the technical details of the atomic bomb were still classified at the time, so those details were very inaccurate. The film's references to leaflets dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki warning citizens 10 days before the attack were also fictional. Some of the central scholars, including Niels Bohr, refused permission to appear in the film (a legal requirement at the time) and forced paraphrases.
Hollywood censors insisted on a few cuts, and there was political interference too. Eleanor Roosevelt turned down the cast of Lionel Barrymore because he had spoken negatively about her husband a few years earlier. (The actor was replaced by Godfrey Tearle). And an entirely fictional scene of Truman tormenting himself over the decision to drop the bomb has been added. With all this outside interference, it's no wonder that the last film was disappointing and marked by state-sponsored propaganda. None other than the real Robert Oppenheimer (played by Hume Cronyn in the film) criticized the script and characters, which he viewed as "stilted, lifeless and without purpose or insight". (Tell us how you really feel oppie.)
<img alt = "Godzilla Director Ishirō Honda wanted his monster to "have the horrific properties of an atomic bomb". "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/abomb7-640×426.jpg "width =" 640 "height =" 426 "srcset =" https: //cdn.arstechnica .net / wp-content / uploads / 2020/06 / abomb7.jpg 2x”/>Enlarge /. Godzilla director Ishirō Honda wanted his monster to "have the horrific properties of an atomic bomb".
This is the undisputed king of the monster films. An ancient marine animal is awakened from the depths of the ocean by underwater testing of a hydrogen bomb that will make local villages obscure and set off their deadly atom on those who try to stop them. While the monster is ultimately defeated, Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) predicts that another Godzilla could emerge if mankind continues to test nuclear weapons. Audiences loved the monster so much that Godzilla was re-cast as the hero in many later films in the series.
Almost from the start, the film was intended to be a metaphor for the terror wrought upon the world by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – nature's way of taking revenge on man for his destructive creation. "If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just a cannonball," director Ishirō Honda once said. "But if it were like an atomic bomb, we wouldn't know what to do. So I took the properties of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla."
Pro tip: don't confuse the original Godzilla with the 1956 American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters !, the version that most of us saw as kids since the original wasn't available in North America until 2004 Steven Spielberg, who sees the film as the inspiration for Jurassic Park.) This heavily edited version of the earlier film is shorter and includes nasty new shots of Raymond Burr doubling over his body to give the impression of being part of the original. Most of the political issues have also been cut out of this version. Honda was apparently amused by the changes as it "tried to mimic American monster films".
<img alt = "In Hiroshima Mon AmourThe bombing of Hiroshima is a metaphor for the end of an affair. "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/abomb2-640×427.jpg "width =" 640 "height =" 427 "srcset =" https: //cdn.arstechnica .net / wp-content / uploads / 2020/06 / abomb2.jpg 2x”/>Enlarge /. In Hiroshima Mon Amour, the Hiroshima bombing is a metaphor for the dire end of an affair.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
This is the first feature film by French director Alain Resnais and is considered a classic of French New Wave cinema. It was originally supposed to be a brief documentation of the atomic bomb, but Resnais couldn't figure out what to do with the material to make it stand out from his 1956 Holocaust documentation (Night and Fog). He joked that he needed writer Marguerite Duras to write the script – and Duras was helpful and got an Oscar nomination for her troubles.
The entire film consists of a series of conversations between a French actress, identified only as "Her" (Emmanuelle Riva), and a Japanese architect, "Him" (Eiji Okada), at the end of their brief affair. The actress compares their failed relationship to the Hiroshima bombing, which is in line with the architect who served in the Japanese Imperial Army and lost his family in the Hiroshima bombing. His memories are captured by very brief flashback sequences that are tied into the current scenes – one of Resnais' experimental innovations. When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959, Hiroshima was unfortunately excluded from the official selection to avoid offending the US government, as the thematic focus was on atomic bombs.