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A FALSE SUN: New doc "The Bomb" proves frighteningly relevant

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A submarine's nuclear missile launch test spirals out of control in "The Bomb."
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sometimes visuals can make far more impactful statements than the myriad of words spoken aloud by humans.

Seeing the utterly destructive power of a nuclear weapon detonating takes your breath away, regardless of how many times you have watched archival footage of nuclear bomb tests. And I have seen plenty, being a child of the Cold War and coming of age at the height of the Reagan era nuclear war threat involving the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

And here we are, some three decades later, and “the bomb,” as it is known, has slipped back into our collective unconscious, triggering dark dreams and suggesting (seemingly) inevitable nightmares.

Back when soldiers were ordered to march toward the mushroom cloud. (Image via Visit Films)

That’s what I was thinking while watching The Bomb (stylistically read as the bomb), a powerful new documentary film from Visit Films (available via Netflix and Amazon Prime) about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the existential threat they still pose to humanity and the planet.

This is a subject that has been at the forefront of my mind for several years now, something I had not really worried all that much about since about 1990 or so. But now the nuclear threat – between Trump’s trash-talking with missile-lobbing North Korea (conducting underground nuclear tests as we speak) and Russia’s ability to turn us into “radioactive ash,” well, it’s a real concern that most people haven’t been thinking much about.

But with The Bomb, I think viewers will be reminded just how serious the threat remains and how important nuclear disarmament is.

Created by filmmakers Kevin Ford and Smriti Keshari, along with investigative reporter Eric Schlosser (author of 2013’s Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety), The Bomb first debuted last year at the Tribeca Film Festival in what is called an “immersive experience,” where 30-foot high screens featured the film, accompanied by live music.

The first moments of the atomic bomb test at Trinity Site in New Mexico on 7/16/45. (Los Alamos Nat'l Laboratory)

Seeing it myself, on a far smaller screen, I was no less taken aback by the vivid imagery taken from a combination of Cold War-era nuclear test footage (Nevada Test Site, Marshall Islands, etc.), graphics and animation, documents and even the still-unnerving quote from the father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who, two years before succumbing to throat cancer in 1967, said the following about witnessing the July 16, 1945 atomic bomb test at the Trinity Site in New Mexico:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another."

Clip from The Bomb. (Visit Films)

For those who have watched the 1965 Oppenheimer clip, which is featured here - with a still noted above - you see, essentially, a broken man. A man who has long realized what a horrible thing he has unleashed into our world. It comes as no surprise to me that the key scene in Twin Peaks: The Return was the eighth episode focusing on the Trinity test and it being the event that unleashed the dark forces of the Black Lodge into our plane of existence. I think that moment was important, in that David Lynch and Mark Frost were reminding viewers of the sheer madness behind what was done 72 years earlier along a stretch of the old Spanish trail, the Jornada del Muerto (the appropriately named "Journey of the Dead Man"). 

The Bomb could not be any more timelier, as nuclear-related incidents seem to be on the rise (recall our 2014 coverage of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant accident near Carlsbad, New Mexico) as there seems to be a new run on bomb shelters, of late! You see how it was back in the 1950's, with the absurd "duck and cover" sequences, where schoolchildren hide under their desk if an atomic attack were to take place. The tests where soldiers were told to march toward the mushroom cloud after a nuclear detonation at the Nevada Test Site, and the horrific affects on people following the 1945 atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

After that, Oppenheimer admitted to President Harry S. Truman - who authorized the attacks - that he felt as though he had "blood on his hands," something that infuriated Truman, who said Oppenheimer was not allowed in the Oval Office ever again. This was recounted in Jonathan Fetter-Vorm's graphic novel Trinity, which we reviewed here

Increasingly, President Trump is invoking President Truman - that dropper of atomic bombs and fighter of commies on the Korean peninsula - a development which should worry us all.

And while the media was going on about football players not being patriotic enough, the Albuquerque Journal reported that there was a “criticality safety event” at Los Alamos National Laboratory (where Oppenheimer’s Manhattan Project was launched during World War II) where too much plutonium placed in one location could have kicked off a nuclear chain reaction that could have led to releases of deadly radiation. This was recently!

The mood and vibe of The Bomb is hauntingly beautiful and shocking (see more declassified nuclear test films here). But the filmmakers - who use only minimal amounts of dialogue and little, if any voiceovers - do their job well (along with the hypnotic electro-rock of L.A.-based band The Acid).

All you can do is sit back and watch this one. Hopefully it encourages people to take action and demand nuclear disarmament.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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