Oppenheimer Ending Explained: What does Einstein mean at the end?

What is the movie Oppenheimer (2023) about? Who is he? What are the real events the drama is based on? Plot analysis, ending explanation, detailed meaning, similar movies.

Country: USA, UK

Genre: biopic, drama

Year of production: 2023

Director: Christopher Nolan

Actors: Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt.

One of America’s most famous and revered directors, Christopher Nolan directed the first biographical drama of his career. It happened as if in opposition to the current trends of Hollywood, which seems to be mired in special effects and self-repeaters. At the same time, box office receipts, as well as high marks of viewers and critics speak of the right choice. Let’s understand the details of the picture and try to understand the meaning of the movie “Oppenheimer”

Who is Robert Oppenheimer

This is the name of the main character in Christopher Nolan’s film. Robert Oppenheimer – American scientist-physicist, who became world famous as the scientific director of the development and testing of the world’s first nuclear weapons (Manhattan Project). Along with his colleagues Edward Teller and Stanislaw Martin Ulam, Oppenheimer was given the unspoken title of “father” of the atomic bomb.

Who is Frank Oppenheimer

Robert Oppenheimer’s younger brother. He is also known as a nuclear physicist and a member of the Manhattan Project. Like Robert, he was associated with the Communist Party USA, because of which he was also persecuted. In the movie, Frank is played by Dylan Arnold.

What the movie is about

Since the script is based on real events and the biographical book “Oppenheimer: The Triumph and Tragedy of American Prometheus” by Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird, the movie conveys historical moments quite close to reality. By the way, according to Christopher Nolan himself, the events, the authenticity of the description of which is beyond doubt, depicted in the film in black and white. The author’s interpretation (of the director or biographers) was intended to convey color footage.

Cillian Murphy of the movie Oppenheimer
The main role of Robert Oppenheimer was played by Cillian Murphy. A frame from the movie Oppenheimer

Not everything in the movie is clear to those who are not familiar with the history of nuclear weapons development and Robert Oppenheimer’s biography. So let’s analyze the content of the movie and try to explain some details along the way.

The movie starts with the sounds of falling raindrops and a picture of an explosion. Then we see Robert Oppenheimer testifying at the hearings on his admission to further development of nuclear weapons. They lasted four weeks in 1954 – at the height of the McCarthyism policy, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was one of the fiercest opponents of communism. He and his supporters called for the purging of the United States, and especially government agencies, of anyone suspected of having ties to Communist parties and the Soviet Union. Among the latter was Robert Oppenheimer.

Suspicions about the scientist were not unfounded at all. After all, Robert, since 1936, actively interested in politics and acquired ties with the communist movement. In the party, he, as biographers say, he was never a member, but often donated finances for the needs of charitable organizations professing socialist ideas. These contributions were sometimes considerable, because Oppenheimer never felt the need for money. He was born and raised in a wealthy Jewish family that emigrated from Germany to the United States. Robert’s father ran a profitable business, which could not shake even the Great Depression – the economic crisis that broke out in the States from 1929 to 1939.

But it wasn’t just about the cash outgoings. Many of Robert’s close friends were officially members of the Communist Party USA and closely involved with the global communist movement. We are introduced to characters representing some of these people as the narrative progresses.

In the few seconds during which we watch Robert at the 1954 hearings, there is an abrupt jump to 1959 (similar time jumps will occur continuously in the movie). At that time, a different hearing was taking place – the confirmation of Lewis Strauss as Secretary of Commerce in the U.S. Senate. We’re watching the preparations for the process. Strauss fears that he will be accused of having caused Robert Oppenheimer to be removed from his own brainchild, the development of nuclear weapons. As we will see later, the fears are not in vain.

Robert Downey Jr. of the movie Oppenheimer
Robert Downey Jr. played the role of Lewis Strauss. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

Members of the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (I’AEC) ask Robert about his studies in Cambridge (UK). He was accepted there in 1924 after graduating from Harvard (USA), where he had studied a very broad range of disciplines and his interest in nuclear physics (still quite new at the time) was just beginning to develop.

We are shown a dejected Robert, who cannot sleep, impressed by ideas about the structure of the universe, about the hidden meaning of the universe. This tiny episode (and a couple of others like it at the beginning of the movie) is a reference to the scientist’s childhood and youth. The point is that Oppenheimer did not immediately become the confident (or even self-confident) figure we see him to be. For a long time he was extremely withdrawn. Robert experienced very great difficulty in communicating with others, including the opposite sex, for a long time plunged into a depressive state.

Saved science and art. He greedily absorbed knowledge, engaged in creative work and for a long time went somewhere in his worlds. The turning point, after which Robert became more and more like a daring pioneer in science and his own life, was a trip to the island of Corsica (France) in 1926. It will not be shown in the movie. And biographers do not know exactly what happened there, limiting themselves only to speculation about the first serious love affair.

Oppenheimer himself was also very vague about his sudden transformation. But among other things preceded him months of psychotherapy, appointed to Robert after several “alarm bells”. One of them was shown in the movie episode with an apple. True, in the picture, the attempted poisoning of a teacher named Patrick Blackett went unnoticed. Biographers argue that it not only occurred in the fall of 1925, but also became known to the leadership of Cambridge. Robert’s father had to stand up for his son, so that he was not accused of attempted murder. Thankfully, the poisonous liquid was applied to the apple (and not brought in with a syringe, as shown in the movie) not in a lethal dose. Again, however, the details of the failed crime are not reliably known.

Emily Blunt of the movie Oppenheimer
The movie stars Emily Blunt as Katherine Oppenheimer. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

Twenty-two-year-old Robert is sent to Germany, in Göttingen (in the movie it is preceded by a conversation with the famous Niels Bohr), where the scientist really began to immerse himself in theoretical scientific work on quantum physics. He began to grow rapidly both professionally and emotionally. Max Born, head of the physics department, played a significant role in this.

Imaginary galaxies and particles flicker again. For a few seconds we are shown the modernist poem “Barren Land” by Thomas Stanz Eliot, then Picasso’s 1937 painting “Woman Sitting with Crossed Arms”. This, first, once again emphasizes Oppenheimer’s versatile development, and second, shows his desire to push the boundaries of the familiar, which the named authors did as well. Robert throws glass glasses against the wall, observing the “destruction of matter”, which refers to the scientist’s further activity.

1947. Robert Oppenheimer accepts Lewis Strauss’s invitation to head the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. We are shown the scene of their meeting. From the window of his new office, Robert sees Einstein strolling by. Strauss asks Oppenheimer why he did not include this truly great scientist in the Manhattan Project. Robert replies that Einstein is indeed the greatest mind, but for his time. His theory of relativity was published over forty years ago, and the scientist, alas, was unable to enter the quantum world that, in a way, he himself had discovered.

The sacramental phrase “God does not play dice.” Einstein wrote these words to the aforementioned Max Born. It means that the study of the world of particles, the quantum world, is always a study of probabilities. It is impossible to determine simultaneously the exact position and the exact momentum of a micro-object. This state of affairs comes into contradiction with “classical” physics – the physics of “our” world. Demonstration of such contradiction is, for example, the mental experiment with the famous Schrödinger’s cat, which is both alive and dead at the same time. Here the “typical” for quantum physics probabilistic characteristic turns into absurdity when one tries to make a logical judgment from it for our world of large objects. Einstein refused to work with such a “theory of chance,” believing in the possibility of an alternative, fundamental theory.

In a private conversation, Einstein tells Oppenheimer something – at the end of the movie we learn what it is.

Dylan Arnold of the movie Oppenheimer
Dylan Arnold as Frank Oppenheimer and Matt Damon as Leslie Groves. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

What follows is an episode showing Robert working in Holland, where he impresses the audience with his knowledge of the local language. Indeed, Oppenheimer was a polyglot – in addition to English, he knew Dutch (which is shown in the movie), French, Chinese, also studied Sanskrit (which we will see in one of the next episodes).

Oppenheimer talks to Isidore Rabi (Nobel Prize winner in 1944), his future close friend and colleague. Concerns are raised about their Jewish background, which in those days was often an obstacle to a career in both Europe and the United States. This is followed by a brief conversation with German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Nobel Prize winner in 1932), one of the creators of quantum mechanics and a future participant in Germany’s nuclear project. Among other things, the Manhattan Project was later created out of fear of the latter’s success.

Robert explains to Heisenberg his desire to leave Europe and return to the USA by his homesickness – in particular, his ranch in New Mexico. This was indeed Oppenheimer’s favorite place for recreation and travel. There he gained strength for future accomplishments.

Then follows the scene of acquaintance with Ernest Lawrence. In 1930 he became the creator of the first cyclotron (particle gas pedal), for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1939. Then a talk with Oppenheimer’s student Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz, which again emphasizes the paradoxical nature of the quantum world, where, for example, light has the properties of both a wave and a particle. After: a short excerpt of the lecture, the point of which is to emphasize the scientist’s contribution to the modern theory of neutron stars and black holes.

The director shows how Oppenheimer supported the leftist, communist movement by participating in political circles and trying to form a scientists’ union, which the management opposed. Lewis Strauss, in 1959, explains how Robert came under FBI surveillance – its officers were watching suspected communist meeting places where the scientist was present.

small-town street of the movie Oppenheimer
A still from the movie Oppenheimer

1937. Scene of Robert’s meeting with his brother Frank Oppenheimer, his future wife Jackie and his acquaintance with Hokon Chevalier, an American writer, translator and literature teacher. The latter learns of the scientist’s similar political views and offers to provide monetary support to the socialists involved in the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). They fought against the monarchists, who were led by Generalissimo Franco and who in turn were supported by the fascists of Italy and Germany.

That same evening (according to the director’s version), Oppenheimer meets a woman with whom he has been romantically involved for several years – Jean Tatlock, also a convinced communist. They talk about Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and the ideas in the book. During the erotic scene, the viewer’s attention is again drawn to Robert’s varied interests, emphasizing his knowledge of psychoanalysis. Here the authors again provide a reference to Oppenheimer’s neurotic antics in his youth, the cause of which, as Tatlock mockingly suggests, was a lack of sexual activity. Gene asks Robert to read lines from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita, which he translates as “I am Death, destroyer of worlds.” These are the words of the deity Vishnu. As Oppenheimer later said, they were the words that came to him after the successful test of the world’s first nuclear bomb in 1945.

The company led by Robert is traveling through the vastness of New Mexico. Again they talk about communism and black holes. They mention the place where the future nuclear weapons test will take place – Los Alamos. Then Robert manages to combine his two passions: the nature of New Mexico and nuclear physics.

December 1938. German physicists split the nucleus of a uranium atom for the first time. Oppenheimer at first thinks this is impossible, because theoretical physics says exactly that. However, now his friends-colleagues show that the process is quite real and Robert recognizes the error in the calculations. The chain reaction at the heart of the experience indicates the possibility of creating an unprecedented bomb.

Florence Pugh of the movie Oppenheimer
Florence Pugh played the role of Gina Tatlock. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

A small episode shows the complexity of the relationship between Robert and Jean. She rejects his advances, asking him not to give flowers. This is a reference to one notable character trait of Oppenheimer. He loved to give gifts to all his friends and family. Jean, on the other hand, hated this trait of Robert’s.

Again Ernest Lawrence and Oppenheimer argue about the appropriateness of labor unions. The director demonstrates that Robert’s socialist views are gradually becoming a problem for his work. Another scientific breakthrough under Oppenheimer’s leadership is overshadowed by the news of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

During an interrogation in 1934, Oppenheimer mentions that his wife Kitty (Katherine) was a member of the Communist Party before her marriage to him. This is followed by a scene of them getting acquainted. The sweet conversation is interrupted by Ruth Tolman, the wife of Robert’s friend Richard Tolman, with whom he will begin a relationship later in 1945.

Robert introduces Kitty to the wonderful world of quantum mechanics, in which all that we are made of, all solid objects, are mostly empty space. In it are energy bundles connected to each other.

Robert invites Kitty to a ranch in New Mexico. The girl talks about her ex-husbands, one of whom died in the Spanish Civil War fighting the monarchists. The current spouse Kitty is ready to leave for Robert, which later happens when a conventionally secret relationship leads to pregnancy. The scene is intended to show the girl’s pragmatism, which will seriously affect the life of her future husband. Robert breaks up with Jean Tatlock, but, as further events will show, not forever.

Lawrence makes Oppenheimer realize that the FBI has been following him for a long time. Now a friend-colleague also urges Robert to be more pragmatic.

Rami Malek of the movie Oppenheimer
Rami Malek in the film played the role of a scientist. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

In 1959, Lewis Strauss claims that suspicions about Oppenheimer in connection with contacts in the communist movement began long ago, as evidenced by the events of the movie. The real persecution of the scientist by the authorities, according to Strauss, was initiated by someone who stood in the shadows and did not want to be in the spotlight. At the same time, the politician makes it clear that he feels resentment toward Oppenheimer for the episode when he made him a laughingstock in front of Congress for opposing the export of radioactive isotopes to Norway. Strauss insisted that the latter could be used to make nuclear weapons. Robert then ironically noted that virtually anything could be used in such a capacity.

The baby adds to the difficulties in Robert and Kitty’s life. To cope with them helps the family of Hokon Chevalier, at which the new parents leave the child with a nanny to “escape” for a couple of months on a ranch in New Mexico. There, Kitty insists on her husband’s exceptionalism – that only he is capable of taking on the challenges of the new world with dignity.

The scientific work of Oppenheimer and his colleagues is interfered with by the military, which has realized the importance and potential danger of hypothetical nuclear weapons. Colonel Leslie Groves, who would later be the military head of the project to develop, test and use the world’s first nuclear weapons (it was at his suggestion that the project was named Manhattan Project – in honor of Columbia University in Manhattan, one of the first places of atomic research in the United States), meets Robert.

Groves openly states to the scientist that he has heard of him as a narcissistic, self-righteous and ambitious man. Only Oppenheimer’s friend Richard Tolman spoke of him very favorably. However, Groves considered his stated qualities to be the most suitable for scientific leadership of the atomic bomb project, a decision that many would later call a stroke of genius.

Tom Conti of the movie Oppenheimer
Tom Conti as Albert Einstein. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer says that Nazi Germany is at least a year and a half ahead of the United States in developing nuclear weapons. However, he hopes Hitler’s anti-Semitism – that he will not give the Jews who hate them enough resources to succeed. Oppenheimer outlines to Groves his plan to recruit the best physicists in the United States. According to it, the center of secret research will be built in his beloved New Mexico – in the same place Los Alamos, not far from his own ranch. After preliminary approvals, the grandiose construction begins. As shown in the movie, in fact, this place became a real city.

Many of Robert’s colleagues regard the project with great skepticism – especially given the leadership role of the military. In fact, physicists were to be enlisted in the military – Oppenheimer even tried on a uniform. However, this idea was eventually abandoned and Robert was able to recruit the scientists he had high hopes for.

Most of all Oppenheimer advocated for the invitation to the work of Danish physicist Niels Bohr, “proved Einstein wrong” that is reflected in a dialog with Leslie Groves. He became a target for the Germans and in 1943 he managed to sneak out of Denmark and eventually to the USA. By the way, for Groves, Bohr became a real troublemaker. According to him, the scientist “five minutes after his arrival … chattered about what he had to keep quiet.

In the dialog between Oppenheimer and Isidor Rabi, the latter acts as a moral compass, saying that bombs fall on right and wrong and he does not want to see weapons of mass destruction as the outcome of three centuries of physicists. Once again, Robert responds with an argument that has become ironclad for everyone involved in the U.S. nuclear program: the German Nazis must not master deadly force any sooner.

Edward Teller, included in the Manhattan Project, makes calculations of the “lethality” of the bomb, which amaze all his colleagues, including Oppenheimer. The latter urgently goes to ask Einstein for advice. The latter is walking in the park with German mathematician Kurt Gödel, who fled Germany in 1940. Oppenheimer expresses his fears: according to Teller’s calculations, there is a danger that the launched chain reaction will not stop and ignite the atmosphere. Einstein ironizes: Robert is lost in the “quantum world of probabilities” and is looking for certainty, which the great physicist always insisted on. The scientist refuses to parse Teller’s calculations, recognizing his alienation from the “new scientific world” and rightly believing that the American astrophysicist Hans Bethe, included in the project, would do a better job. The latter’s calculations eventually show that the probability of atmospheric ignition is close to zero.

Matthew Modine of the movie Oppenheimer
Matthew Modine as Vannevar Bush, Gustaf Skarsgård as Hans Bethe, Danny Deferrari as Enrico Fermi. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

What follows is a conversation between Oppenheimer and Håkon Chevalier, which would eventually become a major argument for the scientist’s excommunication from his brainchild in 1954. According to biographers’ research, the conversation did take place. This was confirmed by Robert, his wife Kitty, and Hocon himself. But its details are not known. Probably, the meaning of the dialog in the film is conveyed more or less accurately: the scientist was indeed offered to “share” secret information with representatives of the Soviet Union.

The initiator of the conversation was the scientist George Eltenton. However, neither Chevalier, nor Eltenton, nor Oppenheimer were nevertheless found guilty of treason neither in the forties, nor in the final proceedings in the fifties. Biographers agree that, despite their Communist beliefs, they were all American patriots and were not influenced by Soviet intelligence. Moreover, it is unlikely that any of the scientific elite involved in the Manhattan Project were directly involved in the transfer of classified information (except for Klaus Fuchs, who will be shown later in the movie) – after all, the military was watching them first.

Probably, the Soviet intelligence got the development of the American nuclear program primarily due to the recruitment of service personnel, who were involved in the Manhattan project in abundance. And it cannot be said that the USSR “stole” the atomic bomb from the U.S.: after all, in Russia in the thirties were conducted radiochemical research and some of our scientists knew and without intelligence.

By the way, according to the version shown in the movie, the phrase “This is state treason!” is uttered in conversation with Chevalier Oppenheimer. But his wife in her memoirs after her husband’s death claimed that these words were said to her, because she was present during the conversation.

Oppenheimer and Isidor Rabi talk about the uranium and plutonium needed for the bomb. But Edward Teller believes the future lies in heavy hydrogen. And he would be right. The scientist would later be named the father of the hydrogen bomb, which was actually the most powerful bomb in the world. But its explosion, as it is said in the scene in the lecture hall, still requires the explosion of an atomic bomb (fission of uranium or plutonium).

Robert Oppenheimer of the movie Oppenheimer
A still from the movie Oppenheimer

At the 1959 hearing, Lewis Strauss recalls meeting with Oppenheimer and his colleagues in 1949. At that time, the first nuclear tests in the Soviet Union became known. Strauss suspects Oppenheimer of leaking information about the nuclear program and lets him know about it. At the same time we are shown the person whom the Americans should have suspected in the first place – the scientist and Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs, who escaped from Germany and was involved in the Manhattan Project (he was convicted in England in 1950, but escaped a long sentence and eventually went to the GDR).

Oppenheimer meets physicist Enrico Fermi, who is working on an experimental nuclear reactor. And it was indeed built under an abandoned soccer field on a densely populated university campus in Chicago.

In passing, we are shown Lilly Hornig. A female chemist, a plutonium specialist, she was also involved in the Manhattan Project. She is not mentioned in the biographical book on which the movie is based. The director probably decided to show this character to emphasize that women were also involved in the development of nuclear weapons.

Leslie Groves reprimands Oppenheimer and colleagues for traveling to Chicago without consulting him. For Edward Uller Condon, this becomes the last straw for leaving the Manhattan Project. The scientist did leave it in 1943 because of a conflict with Leslie Groves over security.

Ernest Lawrenz, working in Berkeley, California, USA, arrives at Los Alamos accompanied by his “liaison” Giovanni Lomanica and shares with his colleagues the information “fragmented” (partial) at the insistence of the military. Groves also looks at this cautiously, still realizing that when it comes to such a global project, secrecy and efficiency are at odds.

Giovanni Lomanica is drafted into the U.S. Army – Oppenheimer assumes this is because of his communist views. Indeed, Groves’ right-hand man Kenneth D. Nichols hints that intelligence agencies have long suspected anyone who, like Lomanitz and Oppenheimer himself, was a member of FAECT, a labor union of architects, chemists, engineers, and technicians. A number of officials of this organization were accused of Soviet espionage.

remorsefulness of the movie Oppenheimer
A still from the movie Oppenheimer

In 1943, long married, Oppenheimer visits Jean Tatlock and spends the night with her. This is another basis for Robert’s further suspicions of communist connections. At the 1954 hearings, the hero recalls that night, as demonstrated by an erotic scene. In the following episodes we are given to understand that Robert’s wife was aware of the connection, but did not let it damage their family’s reputation to the last.

Oppenheimer himself blames himself for the suicide of Jean Tatlock, which took place in 1944 after parting with him. The cause of the tragedy was clinical depression, which suffered from the girl. She drowned in the bathtub, having previously taken a dose of barbiturates. But the further shown frame with a fragment of the drowning scene speaks of Robert’s suspicions about the American secret services. This is the director’s version – in reality, the scientist never believed that his mistress was murdered.

Oppenheimer in August 1943, during a trip to Berkeley, meets Lieutenant Lyle Johnson, who was a security officer and supervised the radiation laboratory. Robert, recalling his conversation with Chevalier, speaks of George Eltenton as a person to whom counterintelligence officers should look out for. By this point, Oppenheimer was treating his former Communist associates more cautiously and was taking steps to secure the project from “bad influences.” According to testimony from colleagues, he at least tried to “get rid” of current Communist Party members (former ones were plentiful).

Oppenheimer’s “gesture of caution” is taken very seriously by Johnson and he reports it to Colonel Boris Theodore Pash, an American counterintelligence officer of Russian origin. The latter was an ardent fighter against the Communists and had even fought in Russia on the side of the Whites during the Civil War.

In U.S. counterintelligence, he showed considerable enthusiasm for catching spies and often used illegal methods, including unauthorized wiretapping. Here and for the denunciation of Oppenheimer, he took seriously. However, his superiors (including Groves) considered the scientist too significant a figure for meticulous proceedings and did not give Pash to press him really. However, in 1954, these circumstances were recalled, in particular the fact that Oppenheimer, telling about Eltenton, was silent about the conversation with Chevalier.

rainstorm of the movie Oppenheimer
A still from the movie Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer and his colleagues are visited by Niels Bohr, whom Robert longed to see. He passes on valuable information that the Germans are using heavy water instead of artificial graphite as a neutron moderator (to maintain and control the process of atomic fission), and therefore lag behind the Americans.

Bohr warns Oppenheimer of the new era that will begin after the testing of nuclear weapons, and calls the scientist Prometheus, the hero of ancient Greek myths who stole fire for humans and was punished by the gods for it. Here the mentor predicts the hero’s future, foreseeing both the coming torment of conscience and the decline of his career.

The work at Los Alamos continues. Robert resolves conflicts arising from time to time, including suppressing the attempt of Edward Teller to leave the project. At the same time, Oppenheimer still opposes his idea to make a more powerful hydrogen bomb. In the movie, this is explained by the growing fear of the destruction of humanity. Meanwhile, the bomb under development was indeed turning from a weapon of deterrence into a weapon of attack, especially when the USSR finally defeated Nazi Germany. Further in this regard, Oppenheimer repeatedly expressed the idea of creating a controlling body – on the basis of the newly created Organization of United Nations.

After another meeting of scientists, Robert communicates with William Borden. It was he who would later write a denunciation accusing Oppenheimer of working for the USSR, which would lead to the hearing of the scientist in 1954. In the conversation, Borden tells how, as a pilot during the war, he saw a German V-2 missile (“FAU-2”, from the German “Vergeltungswaffe” – “Weapon of Retaliation”), which was aimed at London and which made a terrifying impression. Hearing this, Robert imagines himself inside the plane observing a picture of nuclear apocalypse – one that will still be shown in the movie’s ending.

Despite the growing fear, Oppenheimer supports the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, which, after the defeat of its ally Germany, was still continuing the war. This stance is shown as a paradoxical but sincere desire for “world peace.”

Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. of the movie Oppenheimer
Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss and Cillian Murphy as Julius Robert Oppenheimer. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

In the summer of 1945, Groves and Oppenheimer discuss the testing of the first atomic bomb. Robert calls the project “Trinity”, referring to John Don’s poems, which in turn refer to the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity (God in three hypostases: father, son and holy spirit). The bomb itself is given the name “The Kid.”

Physicist Leo Szilard, one of the participants in the Manhattan Project (it was he who suggested using graphite as a neutron moderator), voices his position to Oppenheimer: he is against the military use of the bomb. Robert does not support him and refuses to sign a petition in this regard.

We are shown a council at which the military finally decides to use the bomb against Japan to demonstrate its power and put an end to World War II. Since there are no military facilities in the country comparable in terms of the weapon’s destructive power, the explosion is decided to be carried out actually on the civilian population of the cities. Twelve major locations are named as candidates.

The director demonstrates a kind of “naive cynicism” of the authorities in the episode when the Minister of War Henry Stimson crosses out the city of Kyoto from the list, because he once “spent his honeymoon there”. There should be two explosions: one to demonstrate might, the other to make clear the intention to use weapons until total surrender.

Oppenheimer and his team are given the task of conducting the test before the Potsdam Conference (the last meeting of the anti-Hitler coalition). The goal is to inform Stalin about the new lethal weapon, thereby maintaining the appearance of further alliance and to use the “iron argument” in negotiations on the post-war world order (in the end, U.S. President Harry Truman was disappointed by the calm reaction of the Soviet leader).

The Trinity tests are successful. Following this, on August 6 and 9, the United States bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese cities chosen by the military leadership as the main targets. The casualties were colossal (according to various estimates from 129 to 226 thousand people), Japan capitulated.

Jefferson Hall of the movie Oppenheimer
The role of Akon Chevalier is played by Jefferson Hall. A still from the movie Oppenheimer

Now Oppenheimer is tormented by the torment of conscience, although he hides it behind the maintenance of the reigning jubilation in the United States. This is vividly demonstrated by the scene in the lecture hall when Robert introduces his listeners to the site of the bombing victims. It is noteworthy that the director’s daughter starred in this episode. Thus Christopher Nolan showed the fear of his hero, himself and all of humanity for their loved ones as a payment for the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

In a meeting with Truman, Robert again voices his idea to establish international cooperation on atomic energy, which is accepted by the president as a position of weakness and remorse. At this point, the U.S. leader believed that the USSR will never be able to develop nuclear weapons (American experts actually expected that Russia will do it at best in the late fifties – too few resources and high losses in the war) and in the end seriously mistaken. Robert explicitly states that he has “blood on his hands”. Truman parries: it was not Oppenheimer who gave the order to drop the bomb, but he did – and his conscience clearly does not torment him.

We are then told about the hero’s public activities aimed at curbing the arms race, and shown how former employees of the project are persecuted because of their communist beliefs. After the exposure of Klaus Fuchs, Robert also finds himself under attack.

Thinking back on all of this, Lewis Strauss makes himself look like a man trying to protect Oppenheimer. In the end, however, it turns out that it was at his instigation that William Borden’s report (and, more importantly, secret information from the FBI) initiated the process to remove Robert from work on the nuclear program in 1954. Thus, the secret enemy of Oppenheimer who stood in the shadows was Strauss himself. The reason is his lingering resentment for his humiliation at a congressional meeting on the issue of isotope exports.

Kitty, convinced that Strauss is guilty of persecuting her husband, urges Robert to fight. But he has already assumed the role of martyr. In the end, at the hearings of the commission to further admission to the nuclear program, the objections of Oppenheimer and his representative lead to nothing. After all, unlike his opponents, he was not provided with the secret information (mostly recordings of confidential conversations) that served as the basis for the accusations.

married couple of the movie Oppenheimer
A still from the movie Oppenheimer

Isidor Rabi testifies in favor of a friend. The prosecution invited Ernest Lawrence, who after Oppenheimer’s public activities was angry enough at him (this was supplemented by a true rumor about Robert’s affair with Richard Tolman’s wife Ruth). However, he, referring to an attack of colitis, did not come to the meeting (the movie shows that the disease is a ruse and in fact he was affected by Rabi).

The apotheosis of the 1954 hearing is the speech of William Borden, who reads out his letter of indictment, also referring to classified material. After this, Robert and his defense counsel finally realize that this was originally a planned and elaborate “performance” for the purpose of revenge.

At the 1959 hearing, physicist David Hill opposes Strauss’s candidacy. He reveals a secret, the solution to which was given to the audience a little earlier: Lewis was the mastermind behind the Oppenheimer suspension case.

At the 1954 hearing, Edward Teller speaks out against Oppenheimer’s accusations, but at the same time remarks that due to numerous disagreements, he would not have granted Robert a security clearance. It is likely that Oppenheimer’s disregard for his colleague’s ideas and calculations made itself felt. Leslie Groves states that now, ten years later, he would not have given Oppenheimer a security clearance – nor would he have given it to any of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project.

Roger Robb (actually the prosecutor, appointed by Lewis Strauss) presses Kitty, insisting on her and her husband’s past involvement in the Communist movement.

Outside the session, Oppenheimer is supported by Einstein, who laments the country’s treatment of its heroes.

In the break after the 1959 meeting, Strauss is furious. He screams about the hypocritical, from his point of view, Oppenheimer’s position. After all, the scientist, on the one hand, urges everyone to “put the nuclear genie back in the bottle,” and on the other hand, if he went back in time, would have done the same thing. After all, thanks to his brainchild, Oppenheimer became “the most important person in the whole world.”

On this contradiction tried to catch Robert and Roger Robb in 1954, which he generally succeeded.Oppenheimer eventually refused to renew his security clearance. And in 1959, David Hill’s testimony becomes crucial for the Senate to vote against Strauss’ nomination as Secretary of Commerce. One of those who voted was future U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who in 1962 partially rehabilitates Oppenheimer by awarding him the Enrico Fermi Prize. The real rehabilitation, which includes revoking the decision to revoke the scientist’s security clearance, will take place decades after his death, in 2022.

Oppenheimer Explanation of the ending

In the final scene of the movie, we return to the conversation between Oppenheimer and Einstein in 1947. Strauss, focused on the supposed importance of his persona, thought that the point of the conversation was to condemn him. But the scientists in the rain (recall the sound of rain at the beginning) talked about something else entirely. Einstein predicted Oppenheimer’s fate. He painted a picture of facing the consequences of his discoveries, punishment for them and rehabilitation, which will be carried out not at all for Robert, but for those who once condemned him.

Oppenheimer says that the chain reaction that will destroy the entire world has been set in motion after all. Naturally, it is not a physical process, but a chain of people’s actions that will affect the fate of all mankind. The point of no return has been passed – nuclear weapons have already been created.

Such a sad explanation of the ending is complemented by the final shots: the launch of deadly missiles, Robert in the cockpit of the airplane (in the role of his opponent William Borden, who watched the launch of “FAU-2”), the picture of nuclear apocalypse – a fiery avalanche consumes the planet Earth.

The meaning of the movie Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan’s movie is literally filled to the top with references to real biographical facts from the life of the great scientist and the history of the development of nuclear weapons. However, they still do not prevent you from understanding what the movie “Oppenheimer” is about.

The main emphasis is on the confrontation between the hero and the antagonist. Strauss and Oppenheimer, and almost all the other characters are so absorbed in their supposed importance that in the heat of constant struggle they seem to forget what they have done.

And after all, invented the unthinkable – a weapon that in the blink of an eye can destroy all life on the planet, which and show the final shots. There’s no way to return to the status quo.

Neither torment of conscience nor sincere remorse will help. The essence of the movie is to show how ambition traps a man. The desire to unravel the mysteries of the universe (remember the dreamy hero at the beginning of the movie) leads to the edge, beyond which a careless step will mean imminent death. And it’s not just Oppenheimer. He is only one representative, though not the last, of the humanity that has invented something for which it is not yet ready.

a scientist in front of his brainchild of the movie Oppenheimer
A still from the movie Oppenheimer

Related movies

  • Manhattan (USA, 2014-2015): a feature film series focusing on the Manhattan Project;
  • A Beautiful Mind (USA, 2001): biographical drama about the brilliant mathematician John Nash;
  • The Imitation Game (UK, USA, 2014): the story of English mathematician Alan Turing.
  • The Theory of Everything (UK, Japan, 2014): the story of a famous scientist and science popularizer’s relationship with his wife.

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