Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic

The creation of a monumental opera based on the mysterious and paradoxical career of the “father of the atomic bomb,” Dr. Robert Oppenheimer.

Wonders are many 01
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
December 16, 2008
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Series and Special Projects

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The Film

Theirs was a project so cloaked in secrecy that not even Vice President Truman knew it existed — a team of top scientists from around the world, assembled high on a mesa in New Mexico, were brought together in 1941 by mastermind physicist Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer to create the most horrifically destructive weapon in human history — the atomic bomb.

Sixty years later, John Adams, a composer with strong roots in minimalism, and stage director Peter Sellars, renowned for his contemporary staging of classical operas and plays, joined forces to forge a monumental new opera. The film Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic chronicles the creative journey to craft an opera that captures the 48-hour period leading up to the Trinity Test, the first-ever detonation of The Bomb.

Weaving together both archival footage and interviews, Wonders are Many mirrors the staging of the opera with the frenetic pace of the top secret Manhattan Project team; they grapple with their doubts and ambitions, personal struggles, practical challenges, and moral dilemmas presented by their terrifying invention.

Looming at the center of both the opera and the film is the enigmatic and exceptional figure of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer himself — the brilliant physicist, the frail aesthete who spoke five languages including Sanskrit, a man who read poetry and married a former Communist.

Dramatic, recently declassified footage of nuclear testing, John Adams’ avant-garde score, and the antics of a 250-person opera company racing toward opening night under Peter Sellars’ direction all culminate in one explosive film.