Einstein and the Bomb: Netflix Doc Leaves More To Be Desired

Albert Einstein in Einstein and the Bomb. Courtesy of Netflix. © 2024.

Einstein and the Bomb takes a docu-drama approach in telling Albert Einstein’s story in the years before, during, and after World War 2.

The film disclaims at the very beginning that all words in the film were spoken or written by Einstein during his lifetime. Admirable but the way it goes about telling his story leaves more to be desired. It packs so much into 76 minutes of film. Make no mistake that Einstein’s story is important–his experiences against the Nazis led to him to speak out in his own way. Here’s a guy that called himself a pacifist but he also realized the Nazi threat was dangerous and you can’t just fight back against violence with peace. It doesn’t work like that–not when one side is calling for the genocide of Jews. Einstein might not have approached things in the way that Peter Bergson or Ben Hecht did but he still took the Nazi threat seriously.

It starts while Einstein is still at Princeton in 1955, some time before his death. Aidan McArdle portrays the genius during dramatic recreations of scenes. A video montage follows before flashing back to the rise of the Nazis in 1933. Einstein would flee Germany for England as Hitler and the Nazis began their systemic persecution of Europe’s Jewish community. A wooden hut in Norfolk, in particular, is what the genius would call home before later making his way to the US. The threats on his life more or less require going into hiding. This aspect of his life was definitely new to me. I’m more familiar with what happens to Einstein after his moving to he US.

Living in England would have the biggest impact on Einstein’s views. Never mind having to decide between the US and Europe. He would go from being a pacifist to saying that the only way to fight force is with force. He addressed the crisis during a mass meeting at the Royal Albert Hall. The meeting was for assisting Jewish academics in their escaping from the Nazis. One key quote: “One can only hope that the present crisis will lead to a better world.”

After this speech, he embarked for the US, where he took on a position at Princeton. Another montage of clips and audio follow before the film reaches 1942 and the race to invent the first atom bomb begins. Because his involvement was considered a security risk, Einstein was not initially included among those participating in the Manhattan Project. He recommended that President Roosevelt do something but later regretted placing his signature on the letter. At the time, he signed thinking that Germany would beat the US to the bomb.

“I made one great mistake in my life. When I signed that letter to President Roosevelt. The likelihood that the Germans were working on the same problem with every prospect of success forced me to take this step….Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have taken part in opening that Pandora’s box.”

As the war gets closer to an end, Allied Forces discovered human remains at Buchenwald. The Soviets reach Berlin but Hitler ends up killing himself. This might end the war in Germany but not so much the case with Japan. The war with Japan would end with a pair of atomic bombs.

I have a bigger problem with this film than I did with watching Vishniac a few weeks ago. It means well but the problem with Einstein and the Bomb is that the film depends too much on dramatic recreations. Even as it uses Einstein’s speeches, letters, and interviews for Einstein’s own dialogue, the film takes more of a docu-drama than most documentaries. Furthermore, a subject of Einstein’s stature needs more than 76 minutes. Hell, the Genius series on Einstein ran for 10 episodes. Perhaps reading Walter Isaacson’s definitive biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe, may just be a better decision.

DIRECTOR: Anthony Philipson
FEATURING: Albert Einstein
CAST: Aidan McArdle, Andrew Havill, Rachel Barry, Helena Westerman, Leo Ashizawa, Jay Lewis Mitchell, Simon Markey, James Musgrave, Simon Haines, Toby Longworth, Jonathan Rhodes, Gethin Alderman

Netflix released Einstein and the Bomb on February 16, 2024. Grade: 3/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.