“Dear Oppie […] we have been irritated by you these past few years, but under the itchy surface, the work was progressing but the heart was still there and the warm being we knew and cherished. I could guess the warm and somber note in you during our last meetings. […] There is a weight in such a venture that few man had to bare.”
First and most importantly, I feel I have to identify that the preceding words by Haakon Chevalier demonstrate the central fallacy that is “Day After Trinity.” The biggest point is that Robert Oppenheimer can be seen as a protagonist and an antagonist depending on the morality of the viewer or reader. This can be ascertained and strengthened by the different appeals the director, Jon Else, and writer, H.A Bethe, try to portray. However, from the haunting introduction above, it is clear that any misconceptions about Oppenheimer are false. Regardless of what a person may think about him, Oppenheimer was a warm and caring individual with a huge cross to bear- the building of the atomic bomb. But the two different mediums that were presented, written and film, display Oppenheimer in contrasting lights due to the nature of the order of events, the organization and the editing techniques in the documentary. The fundamental difference between the memoir by Bethe and the documentary by Else is that Oppenheimer is simply a knowledge-seeking lad with great ambitions in the memoir and a science thirsty fiend with an egotistical problem in the documentary. If it isn’t clear, both of my descriptions are essentially the same thing, they only sound differently due to their connotation, which is a point to be made on the chosen editing of the two creators that made their pieces present the two contrasting views of Oppenheimer.
It is best believed that the order of events and structure of a story can be the essential plight to a good character arc. That is the case in the memoir by Bethe. The memoir is in chronological order, with a well-defined view of Robert Oppenheimer starting as a bright schoolboy leading to the brilliant physicist. This structure of events presents Oppenheimer with no flaws and does not show the guilty side of having built the first weapons of mass destruction. It is because of this simple order that Oppenheimer is essentially boring to the reader. If he can do no wrong he is missing the weaknesses of a good character, as well as there is no climax or revealing resolution. This is completely different to the order of events in the documentary, Day After Trinity. The opening line is as follows, “ The city of Hiroshima was destroyed in about 9 seconds. The man responsible was a gentle and eloquent gentleman.” This nonlinear opening than goes into scenes of destruction from Hiroshima followed by Oppenheimer as a little boy. It is this contrast of destruction and gentleness that makes the documentary brilliant. It portrays Oppenheimer in so many different lights, that it is overall open ended to how the viewer wants to absorb its message. The back and forth on the good and the bad of Oppenheimer make him an interesting character that keeps viewers at the edge of their seat, just waiting to see what else will happen in his throbbing life. The order then moves to scenes of him as a smart student and lover of nature, horseman, and further scenes of Nazism and associating Oppenheimer as a communist. This odd order is another example of the contrast of character in the documentary. Most viewers would not associate communism, which they believe to be evil, with a nature-kindled spirit such as Oppenheimer.
It is however the organization that ties the order of events so beautifully in the documentary. This organization can be linked to editing but I’d prefer to discuss the two categories separately. This is because the documentary is organized in a way that the “tipping point” of the movie is so near the end that 2/3 of the movie is spent loathing Oppenheimer. This is because of his cocky attitude, strut and belief he was an intellectual god. It goes as far as to say he made a Faustian bargain, which is essentially a comparison to the devil. Oppenheimer wrote, “ The physicist has no sin.” At first he feels no guilt in his actions for building the bomb, which makes the audience dislike Oppenheimer due to his lack of humanity. But it was because of this special organization, that the documentary didn’t show Oppenheimer on a personal level until the end of the movie. Without mentioning his personal life, his wife or struggles, Else was able to dehumanize Oppenheimer. In the organization there is actually very little footage of Oppenheimer. This is done theatrically to make Oppie more mysterious. It creates suspense where he is portrayed more as an icon than as a human being.
This portrayal is solely tied to the impeccable editing of the movie. The lack of footage of Oppenheimer is supplemented by interviews. However even the interviews are shot in public locations and are very “stable” which create an aura of distrust as if the interviewers did not want to reveal the truth about Oppenheimer. The chosen editing for these interviews are incredibly fast paced. The narration is usually over quick cut scenes of pictures, which convey Oppenheimer’s fast paced lifestyle, need for the bomb and constant hunger for science. There is also a tremendous amount of B-roll in the documentary. Usually to dazzle more information during the interview while actually hiding the zoom that takes place in between cuts. My favorite example of editing is Else’s shift from B-roll of scenery and horses to tanks and Los Alamos, conveying the shift in Oppenheimer’s character from a nature loving to a strict, concrete, military mind. The edits move away from childhood to science. This is done under the notion to let the audience figure out the deeper comparison instead of the director simply telling the viewers.
The information constitutes throughout the different mediums to depict and illustrate Oppenheimer as two different characters. The article is more focused on Oppenheimer on a general level while the movie has a deeper emotional understanding of his struggles. It is reasonable to conclude that Oppenheimer was basically a martyr. Praised at first for his brilliance but after people realized the seriousness of atomic weapons, he was cast away as the evil inventor. Eventually the cross for him to bear was too much and his later interviews show the lack of courage and a defeated gaze. This is demonstrated by the ending interview of Oppenheimer, “I now become death, destroyer of worlds;” an eerie line that not only marks Oppenheimer as he nears his death but more metaphorically the immense power that he created and his guilt for it. The documentary closes with scenes of nature that the young and free Oppenheimer loved while classical music marks his death.