On March 1 1954 the United States detonated a nuclear bomb codenamed ‘Bravo’ as part of ‘Operation Castle’. This clip shows excerpts from a propaganda film made by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) that recorded the nuclear test on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1954. The historical colour film is interrupted by footage of Marshallese children playing on the island 30 years later. The end of the clip uses an intertitle to explain that the winds carried the nuclear fallout to the nearby inhabited island of Rongelap where children played in the ‘snow-like powder’.
Excerpts from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony 5, Opus 47 play over the soundtrack.
Half Life is a meticulously crafted film that builds up slowly and quietly. This clip is a great example. By contrasting the 1954 film footage of the blast with the daily life of contemporary Marshallese children, O’Rourke foreshadows the impact of the fallout that is documented as the film progresses. The children he shows playing in the villages in this clip seem like normal happy children, but as we find out in clip three, it is children like these who have suffered the most. The absence of a spoken voice-over in the film lets the surviving islanders speak for themselves. The use of an extended, silent intertitle with the haunting Shostakovich score gives the audience a quiet space to contemplate the significance of the event.