Hiroshima, filled with sun, is waking up on August 6, 1945. Teenage boys are playing a game of baseball, women are shopping at a fish market, crowded trolley cars are carrying parents to their jobs, while their children in phys. ed. are stretching towards the sky in pulsating rhythm, harmonious with the tranquil piano. A small child looks up from her toys and admires a plane streaking across the sky, leaving a trail of fluffy white smoke behind it. In a heartbeat, the baseball game, the market, the cars, the schools, and this girl are enveloped in white. Animated bodies melting and ripping apart – vaporized, buildings falling in on themselves like leaves, and actual clips of the bomb dropping are pasted together in a seamless whole that illustrates the total devastation of an instant.
This is how the film “Original Child Bomb” opens: with a barrage of stark images, emotional voiceovers, poignant animation, meditative music, and both historical and contemporary footage. Carey Schonegevel’s film details the birth and care of Little Boy, the Hiroshima bomb, its progeny and the future of atomic warfare in an effort to incite passion, anger, sadness, action or merely awareness in its viewers. Drawing parallels across history, using recently declassified information, and paying homage to the poem “Original Child Bomb” by Thomas Merton, this movie begs the question: Can violence create peace?
Aside from poising an unanswerable question, “Original Child Bomb” delivers its explosive message brilliantly. It raises the introspective argument of how much we actually see, and when we do see it, how much we appreciate it. As war photographer Matthew McGunigle is in his darkroom developing prints, he sees the black lines appearing on the white paper, depicting death and destruction as if he was seeing them for the first time – as if he hadn’t seen them properly through his camera lens. This realization and horror drives him to join a monastery and take a vow of silence. Along with McGunigle, countless others were sworn to secrecy: soldiers, survivors, families of victims – even an animated girl covers her screaming mouth while the word “mute” appears on the screen.
The video montages used in the film greatly supplement the points being made. For example, joyous street scenes of victorious American civilians celebrating the end of the war are juxtaposed with uncensored photos of bomb victims in a Japanese hospital – grim, burnt, emaciated, deformed, scarred and incomplete. Political speeches, historical cartoons and bomb images are narrated by a child’s voice reciting the ABCs of atomic warfare in a chillingly straightforward manner, explaining how the nuclear family keeps growing.
By far the most powerful sequence of the movie lies in the reactions of a high school class to shocking footage of the bombing and its horrendous results. These teenagers sit in sobering silence, feeling guilty, frustrated, upset and surprised. “This will never stop,” one girl says. Another boy shakily realizes that, “Americans have a hard time having passion for people other than themselves, you know?”
“Original Child Bomb” is a disturbing, heavily loaded little boy born ready to explode. The shaky camera shots, quick cuts, highly varied music and video game snippets only add to the movie’s power and strength. No one who watches the film will leave unaffected, whether they like it or not. The original child is telling us: “Warning: System Overload. Game Over.”
“Original Child Bomb” will be presented by Arts & Lectures at Campbell Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 16. The screening starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for UCSB students and $6 general admission.