Oppenheimer paints a portrait of the father of the atomic bomb, the destroyer of worlds, and shows the unfolding of the Manhattan project. Beyond Christopher Nolan’s film, other feature films have placed nuclear weapons at the center of the subject or in the background.
A river film of three hours, temporal layers which are superimposed on each other, a double story, one in color, the other in black and white, an atomized narration. Oppenheimerthe new feature film by Christopher Nolan, is one of the cinematic events of the summer, with Barbie And Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part 1.
An event that is due both to the filmmaker’s reputation (Inception, tenet, Interstellarto name just three), in charge of the subject (the creation of the atomic bomb, a real turning point in the history of humanity) and the casting, of very high quality (Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and almost all the others, up to supporting roles).
Oppenheimer offers a fascinating dive into the adventure of the atom for military purposes. We are witnessing the establishment of the Manhattan Project, which aims to equip the United States with nuclear weapons before Nazi Germany. We also follow the moral dilemmas that cross Oppenheimer, who understands more than anyone else the consequences of his research.
Before Oppenheimerother films have explored nuclear peril — sometimes superficially, as in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with the famous explosion that projects a fridge in which the poor archaeologist is. It is also the starting point ofAkiraanimated film in which we learn that Tokyo has been devastated by a nuclear explosion.
Doctor Strangelove —Stanley Kubrick, 1964
Classic by American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, Doctor Strangelove — whose full title is Doctor Strangelove or: how I learned not to worry anymore and to love the bomb — exposes the unstoppable military escalation between the United States and the Soviet Union, two nuclear-armed powers caught in an arms race and mutual paranoia.
Against the gravity of the subject, Doctor Strangelove is a feature film that uses comedy and satire to reveal the absurdity of strategists’ plans to ensure the destruction of the enemy with an unstoppable system. It’s the infernal Machine, doomsday machine in English. A film that resonated particularly during the Cold War.
Gen from Hiroshima —Mamoru Shinzaki, 1983
Adapted from the manga by Keiji Nakazawa, author who was barely six years old when the bombing of Hiroshima took place, Gen from Hiroshima is an autobiographical animated film. We follow the young Gen, who survived the explosion, unlike the rest of his family. There he discovers the immediate horror of the explosion, including the shadows of people frozen on the walls and the ground.
Gen from Hiroshima expands on the long-term consequences of Keiji Nakazawa’s city being destroyed, far beyond the immediate deaths. Those who perished from diseases caused by intense radiation, years later, but also the difficulty of getting up, poverty, hunger, crime and abandonment of Japanese society, traumatized.
The sum of All Fears —Phil Alden Robinson, 2002
The Soviet Union collapsed, Russia took over. The end of the Cold War and nuclear war? This is without counting the terrorist groups. In this film, neo-Nazis manage to recover a nuclear bomb and seek to detonate it in the United States, in order to trigger a global conflict between the two superpowers.
The film, based on the novel by Tom Clancy, which features a certain Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst, highlights the military escalation that takes place between Washington and Moscow, the first accusing the second of having detonated a nuclear weapon on its soil, while the second denies it, but is encouraged to outbid the military rise of the first.
The song of the wolf — Antonin Baudry, 2019
A military escalation between Russia and Finland, France which decides to mobilize forces to come to the aid of its European ally, Moscow which retaliates with nuclear blackmail… and France which deploys its ballistic missile submarines to show that it too can be threatening. An enemy missile fire, at one point, occurs. But who shoots?
In this French film with military accents, hailed for its narrative quality, its realization and its accuracy on the military level, we find the logic of the Doctor Strangelove : here too, procedures supposed to be unstoppable exist, so that a French shot in response can take place at all costs. But what if this return fire was triggered on a bad assessment?
Wargames — John Badham, 1983
What would happen if a teenager, a little nerd on the edges and a fine hacker, accessed a supercomputer, the WOPR (“War Operation Plan Response”), believing it was a simulation video game on nuclear war, when it is indeed the machine that controls American nuclear missiles? Here is the synopsis of Wargames.
Another typical Cold War film, Wargames also shows the role that artificial intelligence can play in decision-making and, no doubt, the need to keep human control in the loop, in order to regain control at any time. In many ways, AI is sometimes seen as a threat of the same magnitude as nuclear.
Hunting for Red October —John McTiernan, 1990
Another film adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, Red October, Hunting for Red October is also an underwater movie. This time, it’s a Soviet submersible that decides to go west, betraying the USSR. Or, more accurately, these are the ship’s commander’s intentions. However, this plan is not clear for the Americans, who fear a subterfuge.
As The song of the wolf, Hunting for Red October illustrates the crucial role of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines in deterrence operations. Submersibles must be invisible and undetectable, to ensure that the power employing them always has an option to retaliate even if it is heavily hit first.
The Grave of the Fireflies —Isao Takahata, 1988
The Grave of the Fireflies is certainly not quite a film on nuclear weapons (we are talking more about an incendiary bomb) nor quite a film on Hiroshima or Nagasaki (it is the city of Kobe which is depicted). And yet. We can’t help but see in it, in a certain way, the symbolism of a nuclear bombardment, without saying so.
Studio Ghibli animated film, The Grave of the Fireflies is certainly one of the most moving works of cinema. And one of the most touching and important feature films. It’s a tough, tragic film that features two poor little children. Beyond the nuclear bomb, it is above all a film about all the horror of war.
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