Is there beauty in annihilation? This is one question driving filmmaker Jon Else's (<i>The Day After Trinity</i>) latest documentary. Extending his fascination with the now-60-year history of nuclear power, Else's new film achieves something remarkable: it is art about artists contemplating the science of destruction.
With infinite precision and formidable intelligence, <i>Wonders Are Many</i> unfolds as theatre director Peter Sellars and composer John Adams collaborate on <i>Doctor Atomic</i>, their fifth, and in many ways most complex, collaboration. The opera's subject is the 48 hours leading up to the first atomic-bomb test detonation in 1945. The film seamlessly combines footage of the making of the opera, candid interviews, and vivid archival material (much of it recently declassified) with journals and writings by J. Robert Oppenheimer and other members of the team that created the first atomic bomb. Though it largely concerns historical events, the film is startling in its immediacy.
Art, as Sellars says in the film, is in part about discovering something new in what we already know. In documenting the act of creativity, both artistic and scientific, <i>Wonders Are Many</i> draws parallels between science and art, truth and beauty, and succeeds in finding wonder in the heart of darkness itself.