Bradley and Curtis are 13 years old and have an entire weekend ahead of them. Though the boys live in the same area and are the same age, they aren’t really friends.
But Bradley is lonely and his father is gone, and he’s left to deal with his persistent sense of loss, often with only the aid of his imagination.
One day the latent tension and conflict between the boys bubbles up, and Bradley’s imagination may be his only refuge left in a cold, hostile, lonely world.
This dramatic short is a complex mixture of live-action and animation that tells the story of childhood in the age of impending nuclear apocalypse. Set in 1970, the idea of the “atomic bomb” looms in the air, on the TV and in the sounds of the radio, and even children can’t help but pick up the idea that something “out there” could portend great danger to their existence.
Director Adam Butcher tracks the emotional development of the young boy through both the stories he tells himself as he plays with his action figures, and through live-action sequences tracing his life at home and his interactions with Curtis. The narrative proceeds at a measured pace, and as the film’s atmosphere of dread and fear develops, its deliberate tempo begins to feel heavy and ominous.
Filled with beautiful photographed images and sensitive performances, the film also benefits from a richly layered sound design, balancing traditional voiceover with atmospheric sound effects. Applied to both the animated tableaux of action figures and the “real world” of Bradley and Curtis, it creates a dramatic contrast between Bradley’s small, cloistered existence and the larger world where his father has disappeared, heightening his anxiety.
“Sons of Atom” is about a world in which invisible yet omnipresent threats beyond our control loom around us, and how this affects the emotional life of the young and innocent. The “imagination of the wartime child” is a perenially rich theme in literature, but when “war” becomes not just a concrete event but a condition that envelops us invisibly and without boundaries, it shapes emotions and interiority in ways that are only just being explored. By the film’s haunting, explosive end, this imagination is both a source of comfort and tragedy for young Bradley.