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Honeymoon in Oak Ridge: What’s It Like Being In A Complicated Relationship With The First Atomic Bomb?

Due to the overwhelming hype and release based momentum surrounding 2023’s epic biographical drama Oppenheimer, everything surrounding the development of the first atomic bomb seems to be a hot topic in cinema these days. Between Magnolia Pictures’ A Compassionate Spy (which put a spotlight on real life Soviet spy Theodore Hall) and Netflix’s Einstein and the Bomb (which detailed the German scientist’s relation to the U.S developed weapon), it seems as though every film company will eventually throw their hat into the ring of atomic-based history if they can find the right angle to shoot from. For Emmy-winning filmmaker Joe Tripician, he doesn’t have to go very far. The story he needs is right there, attached to his parent’s line of work.


In his newest film titled Honeymoon in Oak Ridge, the New Jersey born documentarian (among his other credentials as producer, writer and performer just to name a few) splices together footage from a special road trip that he, his mother and his father took in 1998 with modern day clips where he converses with his wife and two daughters about all the complicated traumas that come with his parents’ legacy. For, you see, Dolores (better known as DeeDee) and Nick Tripician (along with 1,200 other Army personnel) worked at a secluded location in Tennessee. Nicknamed The Secret City, this 60,000 acre location was quietly but quickly made into a guarded development area for The Manhattan Project. This was to be the place that made the explicit resources and materials needed for the atomic bomb. In the almost twenty minute runtime length, Honeymoon in Oak Ridge offers something that Oppenheimer and the all other dramatized works don’t and that’s the reality of the situation firsthand.


From the angle of a car window, the home video camera pans over the renovated eighty plus year old borough of Oak Ridge. Considering this early scene is accompanied with Joe’s mother saying that this looks to be a whole new city, a feeling that contains both nostalgia and longing easily projects from those in the film to the viewer straight away. There are Red Lobsters, Walmarts and other modern conveniences in place of the atomic community they knew. But then - in a bizarre turn of events - more words of sentiment that are said innocently enough actually reveal a new layer to Oak Ridge that puts everything shown in this short on its head.

Courtesy of Honeymoon in Oak Ridge


While there were dances, sweet songs and good times to be had at this place, there was also a sense of involuntary isolation that cannot be denied. With its guard towers and barbed wire fences, the place looked like a concentration camp (which both parents agree upon). ID’s that were handed out refer to the people by numbers and not by names. Buffets handed out meals “cafeteria-style” with long lines and wait times. It was the 1940’s and racial segregation was taking place - even in such a place like a preparation depot for the Manhattan Project. In a documentary like Honeymoon in Oak Ridge, this haunting contrast is what Joe Tripician gets right - whether he intended to or not.


While obtaining different viewpoints throughout time about all the regrets, conflicts and memories that came from such a place like Oak Ridge and the humanly destruction that the bomb inflicted, he also unleashes a hidden story (that does take some thinking to obtain, but once it is - you can’t shake loose of it). As much as he can, he shows his parents in an earnest and respectable light. As any child of loving parents would. But in all the romanticism and sentimentalism about their previous life and their jobs (she was director of security and he maintained and installed the electronic equipment), the previous version of Oak Ridge for all intent and purposes was drawn out to be a strict and brainwashing kind of space in the Southeastern US. They treated Joseph’s parents and all the others who worked there kindly enough on the inside - but all those conversational comments heard in the beginning of this short doc paint a warped picture that’s hard to shake.


Whatever the reason was for the short runtime, Tripician does make sure that there is plenty of archival footage featured in the work. From newsreels that play puns with the word atomic while covering the issue (that is, actually going inside the testing facilities) to showing interviews with Hiroshima survivors that were originally recorded during those times, the timeline between the traumatic influences of the past and the present’s view on the matter is never a hard trip to take for the viewer. He even finds time to compare the eminent domain practice that was used by the government with Oak Ridge with what happened with his own father, years later, in Atlantic City when the money of casino gambling overtook the entire landscape (including his father’s store).


Even though the analogy is heartfully attempted, the beginning segment (where Joseph and his family members look at a chest full of his parents’ old clothing and scrapbooks) and the final end scene (Joseph’s parents reflect on their past while looking at photos and plaques on the walls of The American Museum of Science and Energy) needed to have more time to fully encapsulate the feelings that were expressed. For example, where was the trunk originally? How and why it came to hold all these relics from yesteryear is another avenue left unexplored. Even though the credits do briefly mention the locale, the sequence showing DeeDee and Nick in the AMSE should have had a quick blurb identifying the place (like the other settings had).


The one on one interviews with both his daughters (Olivia and Helena) and his wife (Cecilia) were perfectly implanted into the short. With his own children speaking candidly about the tense times of the Atomic Bomb as well as what they individually hope to instill into more peaceful, future generations - they really do bring Honeymoon in Oak Ridge to a more inspirational conclusion. Being kind to others and making people feel comfortable around you are the uplifting messages that intertwine with the finale.


After watching Honeymoon in Oak Ridge for a few times now and really exploring all of which it had to offer, this slice of life documentary proves to be a satisfying but somber insight into what it actually means to carry so much power on your shoulders. We’re hopefully looking at a brighter future but we cannot just forget about our sins of the past.


I will give Honeymoon in Oak Ridge a 4 / 5.

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