The shadow makers

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German title The shadow makers
Original title Fat Man and Little Boy
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1989
length 127 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director Roland Joffé
script Roland Joffé,
Bruce Robinson
production Tony Garnett
music Ennio Morricone
camera Vilmos Zsigmond
cut Françoise Bonnot

Die Schattenmacher (Original title: Fat Man and Little Boy ) is an American film drama from 1989 by Roland Joffé , which tells the secret development of the first atomic bombs by the Allies as part of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos . The film culminates in the Trinity Test , the first nuclear weapon explosion.

The film premiered in the US on October 20, 1989, and in Germany on February 22, 1990. It grossed less than four million US dollars. Roland Joffé was in 1990 for the Golden Bear of the Berlinale nominated. The film was for the PFS Award in the category Peace of the Political Film Society nominated in the 1989th


USA, autumn 1942. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor , fear is growing in the USA that the Nazis could construct a German super weapon, an atomic bomb, in Europe. Leading nuclear scientists in the USA, including Leó Szilárd , have theoretically proven that the construction of such a weapon, which is based on the splitting of atoms, is physically possible.

President Roosevelt makes the decision to force the construction of an atom bomb to forestall the Germans. Brigadier General Groves is given the military order to carry out this project. He names it the " Manhattan Project " and contacts atomic physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer , professor at the University of Berkeley. Groves convinces Oppenheimer to take over the scientific management of the Manhattan project.

Groves begins building a research facility in Los Alamos , New Mexico. From the spring of 1943 onwards, more and more talented scientists who had previously worked all over the country are concentrated in Los Alamos. One of them is Michael Merriman, who previously worked at the University of Chicago.

The unsolved technical problems at the beginning of the project are immense, especially since the schedule provides for the construction of a functional atom bomb in just 19 months. One of the most important questions at the beginning of the project is, among other things, the decision whether uranium-235 or plutonium should be used as fissile material for the construction of the bomb and how much material is actually needed. So far, however, the factories in Oak Ridge and Hanford have been supplying insufficient quantities of fissile material to definitively answer this question.

In addition, for safety reasons, life in the Army Camp in Los Alamos is subject to ever stricter regulations, which are increasingly bothering the scientists who are used to their freedom. Letters from scientists to their families or friends are opened or censored, telephone calls are tapped, and in some cases scientists are even shadowed while traveling. In this way, the Army learns of Oppenheimer's relationship with Jean Tatlock , a communist who, like him, used to work in Berkeley. Oppenheimer has to end this relationship under pressure from Groves, who believes Tatlock is a security risk. Jean Tatlock cannot cope with this separation and commits suicide a little later.

The difficulties involved in constructing the bomb remain immense. In particular, the implosion method for igniting the plutonium bomb causes great problems. They can only be solved by the fact that Oppenheimer finally calls in two explosives experts who finally ensure the longed-for breakthrough.

In the midst of these efforts, the news bursts that the war in Europe is over and Germany has capitulated. A discussion ensued between the scientists and General Groves as to whether such a bomb is even necessary under these new circumstances. Groves convinces the scientists to keep working by pointing out the ongoing war with Japan. Without a nuclear weapon - at least according to the belief of the US military - this could only be ended by a loss-making landing of American troops in Japan.

However, many of the scientists present in Los Alamos are not reassured and have growing moral concerns about the idea that their work could be used by the military to wage war and thus be responsible for the death of many people. A heated discussion ensues in Oppenheimer's barracks about the moral responsibility of science in supporting the military for a nuclear weapon. There are increasing moral scruples among the scientists present. Ultimately, however, Oppenheimer can convince her to finish her almost completed work.

Shortly before the planned “ Trinity test ”, that is, the detonation of a plutonium bomb on a test site south of Los Alamos, a terrible accident occurs in the laboratories. In an experiment to determine the critical mass of plutonium, the physicist Michael Merriman is badly irradiated. Merriman, who has meanwhile fallen in love with the nurse Kathleen Robinson, suffers a dose of radiation that leads to his death within a few days. Regardless of this, the preparations for the Trinity test continue. When Groves asked what it would be like, Oppenheimer only replied: "unbelievable". Although the weather conditions are unfavorable, the preparations are completed on time. On July 16, 1945, early in the morning, the world's first atomic bomb was successfully detonated.

relation to reality

The character of Merriman is actually fictional and composed of Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin , two scientists from Los Alamos who died in accidents as a result of chain reactions . Unlike Merriman's death in the film, this only happened after the bombs in Japan .

The original title refers to two specific atomic bombs that have been given the richly euphemistic or at least anthropomorphic names Fat Man and Little Boy , or possibly to the characters or historical models of the somewhat obese Gene . Leslie R. Groves and the slim Robert Oppenheimer , who had the military and scientific directors of the project.


The film was largely received negatively by critics, with historical inaccuracies and simplification of the material being criticized.

“An unadorned and developed film without external effects about the step into the atomic age and the organizational, human and ethical problems that arise. After lengthy exposure, disappointing in the insufficiently deepened, inappropriately melodramatic nature of people and conflicts. "

“The US criticism fell on Die Schattenmacher almost unanimously , in that it rejected precisely the simplification that was supposed to make it easier for the viewer to understand the historical events as an inadmissible banalization. [...] an interesting drama, exquisitely photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond, which tries to understand the incomprehensible, the question of how humans could create such a terrible weapon in the first place. "

- Arne Laser : The great film lexicon. All top films from A – Z

"Since the two men have no major differences of opinion at all, the conflict is reduced to poignant speeches that are not about much, you just listen carefully."

- Roger Ebert : October 20, 1989

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lexicon of International Films , p. 2670.
  2. Arne Laser in: Dirk Manthey, Jörg Altendorf, Willy Loderhose (eds.): Das große Film-Lexikon. All top films from A-Z . Second edition, revised and expanded new edition. Verlagsgruppe Milchstraße, Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-89324-126-4 , p. 2391 .
  3. Online resource , accessed on January 22, 2008 ( Since the two men do not really violently disagree on anything, their conflict reduces itself to emotional speechmaking, which, when carefully listened to, is not really about anything. )