Original Child Bomb
Photos and Video
An engrossing documentary based on the prose-poem by Thomas Merton, about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Spare voice-over narration quotes dispassionately from Merton's text throughout the film, as graphic images provide an unyielding display of the human face of war. This visually sophisticated presentation makes extensive use of home movies, period newsreels, still photographs, drawings, computer graphics, present-day interviews, and cel animation. Director Carey Schonegevel imbues Original Child Bomb with a contemporary immediacy by shuttling back and forth between different images from the past and present: scenes of daily life in Japan before the dropping of the atomic bomb are juxtaposed with images of its devastating aftermath; stock shots of the atomic tests in the Nevada desert are conjoined with an interview with an American veteran who witnessed that event; and a newsreel of Harry Truman's declaration of victory over Japan is contrasted with televised images of George W. Bush's response to the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Original Child Bomb begins as a dramatic retelling of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, and it concludes with a strong plea against nuclear proliferation. The filmmaker effectively brings this point home by focusing on the reactions of contemporary American youths. A roundtable discussion among teenagers focuses on America's responsibility for exploding nuclear weapons, and an animated sequence (by Emily Hubley and Jeremiah Dickey) depicts a young girl's discovery of the truth behind the ABC's of our nuclear age.
Director's Statement Collapse
U.S. Airman Matthew McGonergil photographed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima from the air. After the war he entered a monastery and took a vow of silence. Thomas Merton lived in the same monastery, called Gethsemane, in Kentucky, where he wrote "Original Child Bomb." The poem is an account of the creation of the nuclear bomb and its use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Merton concludes his poem thus: "President Truman summed up the philosophy of the situation in a few words. 'We found the bomb,' he said 'and we used it.' Since that summer, many other bombs have been 'found.' What is going to happen? After a season of brisk speculation, men seem to be fatigued by the whole question." McGonergil's silence is open to multiple interpretations. As the Second World War ended, the Cold War began. Dissent was deemed unpatriotic. Under the doctrine of a "clear and present danger," the right to free speech was overridden. The Rosenbergs were convicted of feeding atomic secrets to Russia and executed. McCarthy's witch hunt was underway. No wonder then that a nuclear witness should choose to keep his mouth shut. McGonergil's silence still resonates. By including his story in our film, we have made public his very private gesture. Many of the Japanese atomic survivors, called "hibakusha," waited until the end of their lives to tell their stories. To be a "hibakusha" was akin to being HIV-positive. They were considered less marriagable, less employable, likely to sicken and die. Their suffering was often quite literally unspeakable. Nevertheless hundreds of them have come forward, determined that others should know the horror of what they endured, so that nuclear weapons should never be used again. They have found the courage to offer their testimonies for the good of humanity. We are once again in a time when concerns about national security in the United States are being used to silence opposition. Now more than ever dissent is patriotic. In his writings, Thomas Merton made frequent use of the word "unquiet" which is defined as meaning "restless, agitated, stirring; perturbed, anxious." This film has been our "Unquiet Project." Our hope is that it will make people think and talk about nuclear weapons. We can no longer afford to be "fatigued by the whole question." Nuclear weapons are back at the center of international affairs. Repackaged as "WMD" they have become dangerously disconnected from our understanding of the human cost of their manufacture and use. As long as some countries rely on nuclear weapons for security, all countries and all people are threatened. Fallout is not contained by national boundaries. Most of us choose to believe that it is unrealistic to imagine a world without nuclear weapons. We have given up hoping. We are apathetic and disempowered. Hope lies in the conviction that social change is engendered by individuals. We have a collective responsibility for each other and for the earth. As the Tibetans say "Every drop makes an ocean." Let's make some noise.
Film Information Collapse
[CHILD] | 2004 | 57 | Documentary Feature
Foreign Title: (Original Child Bomb)
Language: English, Japanese
About the Director(s)Collapse
Carey Schonegevel grew up in South Africa and has lived and studied in the U.K. and New York. Her NYU thesis film, Heartspace, received the Carl Lerner award and has screened at numerous film festivals including Cinequest, Clermont-Ferrand, GenArt, UFVA's "Next Frame" (winning the Director's Choice Award), Rochester, Northampton, Austin, Cork, and Montreal, as well as in Africa at FESPACO and the Johannesburg Biennale. As a screenwriter, Schonegevel has cowritten Hotel Kisangani, a travel story about being where you are, The Devil Knows You're Dead, a dark comedy about the pursuit of happiness, and a tale of corporate espionage called Cash. She recently returned to South Africa where she has launched Hothouse, a Transatlantic feature film production partnership which will develop African stories for the big screen.