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Einstein and the Bomb Review – Netflix’s documentary misses its core subject

The post Einstein and the Bomb Review – Netflix’s documentary misses its core subject appeared first on Ready Steady Cut.

After the runaway success of Oppenheimer, it’s safe to say that Netflix’s documentary Einstein and the Bomb will attract more of an audience who want to know more about the scientist’s involvement in the development of the atomic bomb. They might be looking forward to seeing Oppenheimer and Einstein interact in a more documentary-style setting, where Einstein warns Oppenheimer about the possibility that a nuclear bomb might annihilate the world.

But any viewers looking for Einstein’s views on the bomb will be likely disappointed, as this documentary is more interested in showcasing Einstein’s opposition to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, which of course has its place, but when it makes up more than half of the documentary’s runtime, and Oppenheimer’s name isn’t mentioned at all despite his friendship with Einstein, it feels like a missed opportunity bound to disappoint anyone wanting an in-depth look at one of the most famous physicist’s views on a highly destructive scientific project.

Einstein and the Bomb Review and Plot Summary

Einstein and the Bomb tells the story of Albert Einstein, primarily focusing on the years before the Second World War, before speeding through the war, and showing some of the aftermath. Netflix takes a unique approach to the documentary, telling it out of chronological order, using archival footage and pictures where they can, but otherwise having Aidan McArdle beautifully play the physicist and restricting his dialogue only to things that Einstein himself said or wrote.

This is a great idea, because it prevents the scriptwriters from getting too carried away from the truth, and thus gives the documentary a stronger feeling of accuracy. This accuracy does fall apart somewhat when you research that Einstein for example never met the Japanese journalist Katsu Hara as the documentary suggests, and Einstein’s words, while accurate, are twisted to fit a time and place where he didn’t say them, but there’s an effort nonetheless.

The rest of the documentary isn’t worthy of the same praise. Instead of focusing on the key issue at the end, that being Einstein’s relationship to the atomic bomb, the scriptwriters and Netflix got carried away telling the audience about Einstein’s life and pre-war activities, and not focusing on the issue at hand. Some of this is necessary scene setting, yet there’s no restraint over what’s important and what’s not. It’s possible that Einstein’s involvement in the development of atomic weapons was so slight that Netflix was forced to expand its scope, but it willfully ignores other avenues of exploration, like the meeting of J. Robert Oppenheimer (or even mentioning him at all).

Einstein’s relationship to the atomic bomb in real life was indirect, as the documentary states he wasn’t allowed onto the Manhattan Project and while he had brought the revolutionary formula of E = mc² to life, and given the foundational blocks to the terrible weapon that followed, his contribution ended there. This means this documentary can also only indirectly focus on his contributions to the bomb, therefore ruining the core promise of what this documentary is about.

And it’s an issue that would have taken a change of title to resolve, resetting audience expectations for the better. But of course that’s not what happened, so audiences hoping for a deep dive into Einstein’s views will be disappointed. Of course, when the atomic bomb does enter the picture, things become more compelling. One scene in particular stands out, where Einstein speaks to Katsu Hara. While the circumstance is made up, the interaction isn’t, and Einstein is forced to confront his actions, indirect though they were. It points to the fact that scientific discoveries are based on each other like building blocks, where one discovery underpins the next.

Einstein and the Bomb is a huge missed opportunity

Einstein and the Bomb fails to deliver on a premise that many will no doubt be keen to explore. While the physicist is more than his views on atomic weapons, there’s a balance that needed to have been found, and unfortunately, Netflix was unable to find it. However, that’s not to say viewers will get nothing out of the documentary, they merely need to reset their expectations for what Netflix is offering them.

What did you think of Einstein and the Bomb? Comment below.


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