Everything You Might Have Missed in Oppenheimer

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Category Culture, Без категории
Date August 24 2023
Reading Time 6 min.

Everything You Might Have Missed in Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer was a real sensation this year. Despite the most exciting confrontation with it had Barbie, created by the humorous modern users of the Internet, Oppenheimer did not lose to its cinematic rival in almost nothing. Except for the viewers’ mixed response. Whereas Barbie drew mixed reactions and encouraged questions about whether Greta Gerwig was on the side of women or men, Oppenheimer received mostly favourablereviews from critics and viewers.

The film is currently holding a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which in itself is quite rare and equates Oppenheimer to the cult classics like The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. While the film deserves all the praise it has received from movie buffs, its impressive runtime may have made it difficult to grasp certain plot or visual aspects. To simply put it, some of the details that Christopher Nolan intentionally inserted into his movie went unnoticed by people who have seen Oppenheimer just once (yes, they exist). Thats why, in order to fully admire this new benchmark of period film, we need to make discuss these moments you might have missed out on.

The plot follows the father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). In 1926, Oppenheimer studies at Cambridge University. Here, the anxious young man unsuccessfully attempts to poison an apple belonging to his teacher, whom he dislikes. After receiving his doctorate in physics, he becomes a professor at the University of Berkeley. World War II starts and General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) asks him to participate in the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer leads a group of scientists working secretly in the New Mexico desert to build the atomic bomb. At one pivotal moment in the film, Oppenheimer has a private conversation with Albert Einstein (Tom Conti).

When Nazi Germany surrenders, participants of the Manhattan Project begin to rethink their work. However, despite the doubts of many other scientists, the first successful test of the nuclear bomb is still conducted. After that, President Harry Truman (Gary Oldman) bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oppenheimer feels deep remorse over the enormous number of deaths. He expresses these feelings during a meeting with Truman, but receives scorn and ridicule in return.

Later, this encounter, as well as the connections of Oppenheimers brother and his mistress to the Communists, cause the US government to suspect him of betrayal. The US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) holds hearings on Oppenheimers investigation. Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), a senior member of the commission, acts against Oppenheimer, claiming that the scientist spoke negatively about him to Einstein. Oppenheimer loses his reputation and is stripped of his security clearance. Eventually, the government apologises to Oppenheimer, and President Lyndon B. Johnson presents him with a science award. The final scene depicts a dialogue between Oppenheimer and Einstein, in which the two scientists discuss not Strauss, but the long-term consequences of atomic weapons.

The historical accuracy of the movie has already been questioned several times and not only by the audience. Oppenheimers real grandson, Charles Oppenheimer, stated that the scene with the poisoned apple is fictitious, as there is no confirmation of this act. In reality, Robert Oppenheimer himself admitted many times among family and friends that he had tried to poison his mentor. The film does not cover this, but Oppenheimer had to confess to his misconduct and had to spend some time in a neurological centre during his time at Cambridge. Upon leaving the centre, he was given a certificate of residency that did confirm the incident, although indirectly.

Another historical moment that is often questioned is Oppenheimers connection with the Communists. As the shown throughput the plot, Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), a psychiatrist and journalist in real life and Oppenheimers mistress in the film, encouraged him to join the Communist Party multiple times. At the same time, Oppenheimers younger brother, Frank (Dylan Arnold), had been a member of the party for many years. In real life, Jean Tatlock was Oppenheimers girlfriend for several years, whom he even intended to marry, however she turned him down many times. Oppenheimer himself had sympathy for communist ideas and supported many of his students at Berkeley, who were open members of the party. During Oppenheimers security hearing, he denied all ties to them after the Manhattan Project began, including his association with Jean Tatlock. Therefore, the scene where they meet while working on the atomic bomb may have been fictionalised and included for a greater dramatic effect.

In addition, it is worth noting that the very portrayal of communists in the movie is surprisingly positive for Hollywood. For a viewer who is used to seeing communists as villains and immoral characters, it comes as a big surprise that all the most educated, pleasant and, one could even say, uprightcharacters in this movie are communists. Even Klaus Fuchs, the scientist-traitor who passed information about nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union, is presented in the movie as a highly intelligent and moral man who had good reasons for his action, including unshakable ideals. All of this is put in comparison to the capitalist Americans like Strauss, President Truman and Judge Roger Robb, who all mock and ridicule the protagonist. Despite the fact that Nolan wanted to show the process of creating the atomic bomb and its consequences through Oppenheimers point view, this approach to portraying communists is very interesting for American cinema.

The film is divided into coloured and black-and-white scenes, which could seem confusing at the beginning. The reason for this directorial decision of Christopher Nolan could be the idea to divide the part about the hearing of the Oppenheimer case, performed in the black-and-white docu-style of the last century, and colour scenes, in which the work of Oppenheimer was presented through the eyes of the physicist himself. This creates an interesting effect of how the viewer perceives the scientist, being transported from one reality to another as the story progresses. Nolan himself confirmed that his goal was to show reality through Oppenheimers eyes through the coloured pictures, which would contribute to greater empathy on the part of the audience.

Majority of the film focuses on the theme of betrayal, which is a common topic the in war and spy movies. In Oppenheimer this theme is developed on several levels. The already mentioned Klaus Fuchs betrayed his colleagues in the Manhattan Project by passing information to the USSR. The US government betrays the protagonist, who helped them end the war with Japan and put the States in the lead of the world in the arms race, because of personal views, also depriving him of his job. He is also betrayed by his colleague, former friend and the father of the hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller (Bennie Safdie), when he testifies against him at a hearing, which in the story seems to be driven by nothing but personal career anxieties. Oppenheimer himself feels endless anguish because he has willingly betrayed all of humanity by creating a weapon that instantly destroys millions and which now, following the example of the USSR, will be wanted by every other country in the world. It is Oppenheimers worries about having opened the Pandora’s Box of the possibility of nuclear war that become the reason for his trial and so-called downfall he discusses his fears with Einstein and expresses his regret to Truman.

In light of this view of Oppenheimers emotional state after the use of the atomic bomb, the opening quote Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity, which Nolan chose to open the movie with. The author of the book American Prometheus, on which the movie is based, explained this thought by stating that like Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, Oppenheimer gave the modern man atomic fire, but when he tried to warn people about the dangers of his invention, those in power, like Zeus, punished him. This is a very interesting explanation of this quote, however some viewers have suggested that the eternal suffering to which, like Prometheus, Oppenheimer was destined is not the American governments condemnation of him, but the realisation of his complete futility to further the use of nuclear weapons around the world. This is precisely what the final dialogue between him and Einstein reveals. Oppenheimer tells the scientist that he has started a deadly chain reaction that can no longer be stopped. After this dialogue, Einstein, who had initially opposed the creation of the atomic bomb, walks away in utter horror and dismay.

Oppenheimer, despite its length, an amazingly dynamic movie, not for a second does the plot slow down, it moves as if flying over the whole tragedy, with which was filled both personal and professional life of the great scientist. More than half a century has passed since the creation of the atomic bomb. The secret of its creation is open not only to the USA and Russia, but also to India, China, North Korea and other countries, whose interests on this planet often do not coincide. More than one generation has already grown up in a reality, in which the atomic bomb is not something new, but rather ordinary. This perception often erodesthe understanding of the lethality of these weapons. However, the most important message that Christopher Nolan has put into this film, which must not be missed, is that if the man who created the atomic bomb and later realised the horrifying consequences of using this weapon, and which turned out to be monstrous tormentsfor him, then modern people today should remember and understand this, without resorting to its use.