Oppenheimer 2023 film review

Oppenheimer 2023 film: The Story of an American Prometheus and The Genius Mastermind of Destruction of Humanity

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  • Post last modified:4 April 2024

Last updated on April 4th, 2024 at 03:21 pm

Oppenheimer 2023 is a thriller biopic film based on American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin that depicts the life of the most famous scientist and the father of the atomic bomb, Julius Robert Oppenheimer, the American Prometheus who gave the people to destroy themselves.

The film especially focuses on Oppenheimer’s association with communism during his involvement in America’s most secret project, the Manhattan Project, the first nuclear weapon development enterprise. The film won 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture in 2024.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Cillian Murphy (as Dr Oppenheimer), Emily Blunt (as Kitty Oppenheimer), Matt Damon (General Leslie Groves), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss) Rami Malek (as Dr Hill) and many others, Oppenheimer 2023 showcases the life, study, left-wing involvement, achievements and rise to fame and fall from the grace caused primarily his left-wing association and policy dischargement with bureaucrats. His uncanny and tactlessness and egocentric traits made him a victim of the game played by the powerfuls. 

Release on 21st July, 20233, as of August 26, 2033, Oppenheimer garnered a 725.7 million USD box-office hit.

Background: Oppenheimer

This is the story of Julius Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the world’s first Atomic bomb, D minus one, and the cultured, and nonviolent man responsible for birthing the most violent weapon in human history.

The weapon that has the capacity to end civilisation was developed as a means to save Western civilisation. Oppenheimer was born in 1904 when the first two decades of the century were transforming the daily with electricity, automobiles, and flights. The following facts are based on the NBC documentary, To End All War Oppenheimer The Atomic Bomb (2023).

Julius Robert Oppenheimer
Julius Robert Oppenheimer

In 1925 he went to Cambridge to study physics where he had a bad experience with an experiment. He came close to suicide, identity crisis, and lacked confidence. He went to Gottingen in Germany to study with Max Born a physicist he blossomed. Met some of the great physicists including Heisenberg, who led the country’s atomic bomb project.

As a Jew, he was horrified by the rise of Hitler in the 1930s when he was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He started associating with communist supporters, in 1938. In the same year, news came from Germany that fission had been discovered. Though it was hard to believe for him, Oppenheimer did the math and came to understand that fission can be used to generate energy, while Einstein showed that if you could convert matter into pure energy, the amount of energy is extraordinary. They potentially build a nuclear bomb later on.

They realised that from a very small amount of matter they could make power to drive ships and planes, whatever, with electricity.

They also realised that they could possibly make a weapon of destruction.

To design, build, and test the bomb, America found Los Alamos in the New Mexico desert, convenient for building the Manhattan Project and found Oppenheimer, an able man who could deliver nuclear weapons and lead the installation. Not so bright and who wasn’t sure of his own identity became the director of the weapons design laboratory. The Manhattan Project was an atomic bomb project. General Leslie Groves hired Oppenheimer. He chose him against objection from the scientific community regardless of his left-wing background. Oppenheimer suggested him to build the project in the New Mexico desert, called Los Alamos

At the University of California, his bother Frank Oppenheimer joined the Communist Party of the USA, not certain of his, in the 1930s during his time in Berkeley. In his mid-thirties, he fell in love with Jean Tatlock, in 1936, who was a Communist Party member.

He contributed to the Communist Party for the next four years. But in 1939 Kathrine ‘Kitty’ Puening also a Communist Party member spied on him in a party. They met and got married.

On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu killing nearly 3000 Americans. By 1942, there arose a great need for bombs, because whoever first got the bomb could not only win the war but the world.

As Tatlock was going through an emotional crisis in 1943, Oppenheimer visited her in San Francisco leaving Los Alamos while he was engaged with the most secret project of the USA, on the FBI surveillance.

The incident was taken to Colonel Boris Pash, head of army intelligence who considered that a serious breach of security doubting that he was perhaps conveying nuclear secrets to the Communist Party through her. A few months later, in the spring of 1944, she was found dead or killed.

In 1945 President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Hitler committed suicide the same year ending German fascism and Jewish oppression. Harry S. Truman became President. Though Germany was not a threat any longer, they still wanted to build the atomic bomb. When he came to power the motion changed and the bomb was planned to be used somewhere. The target became Japan. Though defeated, the Americans wanted them to be surrendered. But how? Bomb.

Oppenheimer also wanted the bomb to be used or else how would the world know what it was? He viewed the bomb as a kind of Easter metaphysical way of acts of destruction and creation at the same time, an act of war and act of peace that if these things are manhandled could end humanity but if properly handled and harnessed could actually lead to a new era of peace and prosperity for the entire world.

However, in the summer of 1945 with 4,000 men working, spending three years and more than 2 billion dollars D minus 1, the first atomic device was put to implosion. Oppenheimer named the site “Trinity”.

Finally, in Alamogordo, Mexico, on 16 July 1945, the world’s first atomic device went for test at 5:30 a.m. The bomb was in the tower, 100 feet up on the tower from where it was dropped. “With a successful test a new thing has been created on earth, a new challenge for humanity”, says an expert.

After the test, Oppenheimer remarked, “We know that the world would not be the same, few people laughed, few people cried, most people were silent. I remember the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita ” Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multiarmed form and says “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of the world”. I suppose we all thought that one way or another”, to become the Death, the destroyer.

They speculated that if they used the bomb on the Japanese there would be a couple of hundred thousand to die but if they don’t end the war with the bomb there will be millions more dead and as a third choice, they wanted to demonstrate the fatality of the bomb by dropping it Tokyo bay by killing very few people to make them surrender.

Oppenheimer rejected the third option along with the planners. Knowing its full-scale destructiveness, he wanted to use the bomb in Japanese cities on civilians. He instructed how the bomb should dropped and from what altitude.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were set aside for bombing for their particular characteristics. On August 6, 1945, one bomb was dropped on Hiroshima with 20,000 tons of TNT power. And, 3 days later, on 9 August 1945, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

The burden devastation and suffering of Hiroshima were too heavy for Oppenheimer to bear, he said, “Hiroshima was far more costly in life and suffering and inhumane than it needed to have been. This is easy to say after the fact”. Although, he never apologised in any way for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, yet, after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki all of his actions were the actions of somebody who is plagued with guilt.

Japanese surrendered. The atomic bomb ended WWII. Oppenheimer became a celebrity, a rockstar and an oracle of American science for his achievements. He finally came through it all and no longer felt outsider. He is not only the centre of things but on top of all. He was awarded with a congressional medal.

He met with President S. Truman in a view to persuade him of the importance of controlling the bomb technology. Truman asked, “Dr when do you think Russians are going get this weapon of mass destruction?” “Well, I am not sure but sometime in the future”, replied Oppenheimer. “I know, never”, reiterated Mr. President.

When Oppenheimer understood that he understood nothing about weapons and physics, he uttered the wrong thing in reply, “Mr. President I have blood on my hands”, the wrong thing to say to a person who ordered the drop of the bomb in two Japanese cities.

Truman did not believe that anybody’s responsibility was greater than his. Instead, he orders him out of the office, and later says that, “I don’t want to see this cry-baby scientist anymore.”

Later on, Oppenheimer said, “If there is another world war, this civilisation may go under. We need to ask ourselves whether we are doing all we can to avert that.” He decided no longer to work on building more atomic bombs. Resigns from Los Alamos and started working in Princeton where he became Einstein’s boss, using his celebrity status to have his influence.

He became the first member of the International Disarmament. But the genie was out of the bottle. To everyone’s shock, the Soviet Union tested the bomb in 1949 putting the US in a very complicated position. The USA was not the only country that possessed nuclear weapons anymore. 

In such a situation what the scientists and policy people lobbied for was to build the hydrogen bomb to save themselves from this danger of killing themselves by each other. A hydrogen bomb is a thousand times stronger than an atomic bomb, capable of killing as many people as all of the people killed in WWII.

Oppenheimer did not think of its use calling it the weapon of genocide. He opposed the building of hydrogen bombs. The disarmament committee led by Oppenheimer decided that they should not build a hydrogen bomb. “If we are guided by fear alone, we will fail in this time of crisis. The answer to fear sometimes lies in courage”, Oppenheimer said.

The opposition came as a big blow to him as the air force demanded a bigger bomb to blow up the Soviet Union. He moved in the opposite direction of the Air Force. As a result, they wanted to get rid of him. By 1953 he had already made enough enemies in Washington bureaucracy.

Lewis Strauss, the new chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission disliked him. As a result of being irritable and offended by him, Strauss began to plot to defrock Oppenheimer. To do so, Strauss focused on Oppenheim’s’ association with his left-wing friends during the 1930s at the University of California, Barkley.

During WWII, the Soviet Union was an American ally until the Cold War (1947-1948), a geopolitical tension between the USA and the Soviet Union, anyone with a communist past was considered a security threat. He was asked to give up his security clearance in 30 days or ask for a hearing.

He could not agree that he was not fit to serve the movement. He decided to fight and met Einstein before going to Washington who advised him to walk away instead of going through legal procedures.  

In the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) building in Washington a three-man board began a special hearing on the security file of Robert Oppenheimer. It was not only a security hearing but a trial for opposing the development of a hydrogen bomb.

FBI found out the conversation with his old friend Haakon Chevalier in Berkley during the war that he could have leaked information about the atomic bomb project he was working on to Soviet Union officials. In conversation with Los Alamos security people, he had evasive, vague accounts of the conversation.

His fate was sealed for his not being forthright. Edward Teller, an advocate of hydrogen bombs, testified against Oppenheimer. The committee members voted to strip his security clearance. He was suspended and was made a political pariah. The plan was if they could bring down one of the most famous scientists on earth then we are all vulnerable.

In 1939 He wrote his first paper identifying the collapsing stars or black holes. It was his original idea. If a real black hole had been identified before he died, he would have won the Nobel Prize for that work. In 1966 he was diagnosed with esophical cancer and died in early 67 at 62.

Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves and others examine the warped wreckage that is all that remains of a hundred-foot tower and shack that held the first nuclear weapon.
Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves and others examine the warped wreckage that is all that remains of a hundred-foot tower and shack that held the first nuclear weapon.

He once remarked, “We must not fool ourselves. the world is not going to be the same no matter what we do with atomic bombs, because the knowledge of how to make them cannot be exorcised.” In late 2022 the Department of Energy decided to vacate the decision to have the security hearings that the Commission’s inquiry was flawed.

What he said in an interview reverberates in my heart, though, “we know that as long as men are free to ask what they will, free to say what they think, free to think what they must, science will never regress and freedom itself will never be wholly lost.”

The film begins with two hearings: one, fission, with Oppenheimer being questioned by a board of three led by Roger Robb and the other one, fusion, with Admiral Lewis Stauss, former chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, being interrogated in black and white.

Hearing 1.

The first concerns Oppenheimer’s study of physics in Cambridge, in 1926, under Patrick Blackett, whom he wanted to poison for being very demanding in the laboratory, and Niels Bohr, who suggested him to go to Gottingen to study under Max Born in Germany.

It deals with his professional life at Caltech and the University of California, Berkely; the development of the atomic bomb and his association with the communist party that ended him up in a hearing with respect to the security threat, while the second hearing of the Senate concerns Lewis Strauss’ contentious appointment of  Dr Oppenheimer’s to the Manhattan Project and the contention between him Dr Oppenheimer.

Members of the Security board start with Dr. Oppenheimer who flashbacks his past to the question of why he left the United States for Germany. Oppenheimer, nicknamed as Oppie, went to Cambridge where he wanted to poison a professor and where his academic performance was unsatisfactory.

Suggested by Danish physicist Niels Bohr at Cambridge, he went to Gottingen to study new physics under Max Born. He met American physicist Isidor Isac Rabi in Leiden, Holland during his lecture on quantum mechanics. He took him to meet German theoretic physicist Werner Heisenberg, in Zurich, Switzerland.

Upon his return from Germany after his PhD, he started his career at the University of California, Berkeley and at Caltech. During the time he came across Dr. Lawrence, the experimentalist. He started the School of Quantum Theory with one student, Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz, an American physicist.

He met his communist brother Frank, Dr Haakon Chevalier, American writer, translator and professor of French literature, George Eltelton, British physicist and Soviet spy and Jean Tatlock, his mistress and an American psychiatrist in a gathering of communist supporters.

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock holds the Bhagavad Gita from where Oppenheimer reads "Lord Vinshu to impress the prince multiarmed form and said, "Now I have become Death, the destroyer of the world".
Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock holds the Bhagavad Gita from where Oppenheimer reads “Lord Vinshu to impress the prince multiarmed form and said, “Now I have become Death, the destroyer of the world”.

During his days at Berkeley, he associated with communist supporters and made contributions to Spanish Civil War refugees through communist channels. However, the discovery of fission, the splitting of the uranium nucleus, by German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in 1938. American experimental physicist Luis Walter Alvarez and American nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize winners Dr. Ernest Lawrence and Oppenheimer planned to build an atomic bomb based on fission.

On September 1, 1939, he published a paper on the theory of black holes. On the same day, he learned that Hitler invaded Poland. Being a Jew, he wanted to build the bomb on Germany. He said to the board that he increasingly lost sympathy towards the neutrality the communism played, though he was considered a communist.

He admitted that his wife Kitty Oppenheimer and he were communist party members once. Oppenheimer met Kitty at Pasadena and married her who, previously had been married.

You can lift a stone without being ready for the snake that’s revealed.

Niels Bohr to Robert Oppenheimer

Colonel Groves and Colonel Nicolson met him and proposed to make a bomb to use against Nazis and offered him to run the Manhattan Project, America’s first research and development project for nuclear weapons during WWII in Los Alamos in New Mexico.

To do so, he recruited all the physicists and scientists from across the country. He even to Albert Einstein for his suggestion on the work done by Edward Teller where he suggested that an atomic bomb may create an atmospheric chain reaction by igniting the atmosphere that may destroy the world. They found that the possibility for that was near zero.

Chevalier asked Oppenheimer if there was anyone who could share anything with the American ally country, Russia which he thought an act of treason. He tells the board that Chevalier did not know that he was engaged with America’s most secret project, the Manhattan Project.

However, Teller proposed a hydrogen bomb instead of a uranium or plutonium bomb, a fusion bomb, which Oppenheimer rejected due to its possible catastrophe. Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz was dismissed from the project for being involved in the communist trade union, FAECT.

Worsening the situation, Oppenheimer also said that encountered American army military security intelligence officer Colonel Pash, a hardcore anti-communist, as he went to Berkely to see Lomanitz, when he opened up about a Russian spy, Eltenton.

In a meeting with the Chair of the American Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Stauss, Oppenheimer refused to build a hydrogen bomb because it may cause uncontrolled catastrophe which Lewis Stauss and Edward Teller proposed. He said if they build theirs, Russia will build Russia’s, about which Strauss thinks Russia already know about while Oppenheimer retorted that they should get Russian concession by committing that America will not build a hydrogen bomb.

But Strauss believed that, because of the leakage of information by a possible spy in the Project, Russia had already been building a hydrogen bomb. Although Oppenheimer objected that there was no prob of any spy. He was followed by the FBI while he visited and spent nights with his lover Jean Tatlock while he was engaged in building the atomic bomb.

In the meantime, with the death of Adolf Hitler, the use of atomic bombs on Germany came to a halt. Spending three years and more than 2 billion dollars by four thousand men working, they finally put the bomb into implosion in the desert site named Trinity, at 5:30 am on 15 August 1945. 

With dead of Hitler, Oppenheimer proposed to use the bomb against the Japanese. To a group of people who were discussing the possible impact of the atomic bomb, his logic was, “They won’t fear it until they understand it, they won’t understand it until they have used it”. Despite Hungarian-German-American physicist and inventor Leo Szilard’s opposition, Oppenheimer was adamant in attacking Japan.

After bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered ending WWII. But the culmination was beyond estimation. Dropping the bomb claimed 200,000 people’s lives against the estimation of 20,000 to 30,000 casualties.

Oppenheimer was called to meet President Truman, where he proposed an international cooperation on atomic energy. In a question to Oppenheimer on when the Soviet Union was going to have a bomb, he remarked that they also had physicists and abundant resources.

Oppenheimer wanted Los Alamos to give it back to Indians when the operation was complete. But Secretary of State James F. Byrnes replied by saying that if what he was saying about Russia is true, then they must build Loas Alamos instead of shutting it down.

Griped by moral qualms, Oppenheimer replied, “Mr. President I feel like I have blood on my hand”. “Do you think anyone in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will give a shit who built the bomb? They care about who dropped it,” President replied.

From then on, he advocated arms control instead of building hydrogen bombs. Lewis Strauss revealed to him that Klaus Fuchs the German theoretical physicist whom he put on the atomic bomb implosion team turned out to be a Soviet spy, after which the FBI stepped up surveillance on Oppenheimer.

Hearing 2.

On the second hearing, Lewis Strauss revealed to the Senate how he appointed Oppenheimer to run the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton and adviser to AEC regardless of his left-wing past. Prompted by Strauss, the FBI brought the allegation against Oppenheimer for insulting the former publicly on an AEC vote on the question of exporting isotopes to Norway with a kangaroo court with a predetermined outcome.

Strauss said that Oppenheimer’s security clearance was already granted before he met him to appoint him to run the Atomic Energy Commission. He revealed to his assistant that Borden, a former member of the Joint Congressional Committee brought the allegation to the FBI against Oppie, while the question on who provided his Oppenheimer’s security files to Borden reveals more than it conceals as Strauss alone had access to them. He thought Oppenheimer poisoned all the scientists, including Albert Einstein, against him.

Do people need a reason to do the right thing?

Senate aide, to Lewis Strauss

However, Strauss tried to avert his involvement by saying that Oppenheimer was a victim of the McCarthy era or McCarthyism or the Second Red Scare, the political repression and persecution of left-wing supporters and a drive spreading fear of alleged communist and Soviet influence on American institutions and of Soviet espionage in the United States during the late 1940s through the 1950s.

Strauss was seen to express himself, to his assistant, to say that Robert Oppenheimer did not take care not to upset the power brokers in Washington. Though Oppenheimer knew that he was being followed by the FBI he was not concerned about it. Maybe because his fame could actually protect him.

Along with his unforgiven humiliation in front of Congress, and Oppenheimer’s rejection of building hydrogen bombs proposed by Strauss and Edward Teller, Strauss decided systematically to destroy his credibility so can never speak on the matter of national security. He told Colonel Nicholas to withhold the security clearance without renewing it and was told him to offer a chance to appeal. Strauss appointed a board comprising, Roger Robb.

 The film ends with a flashback moment between Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein where we hear a discussion about the latter’s belief related to scientific discovery and political use of great minds when he gave the following advice to the former: “One day when they punished you enough, they will serve you with salmon and salad. Make speeches. Give you a medal. pat you on the back, tell you all is forgiven. Just remember it won’t be for you. it will be for them.”

The lessons it conveys

I think this is the only film that involves the greatest number of physicists, scientists and academics of a time when physics was the new normal, from the 1940s to 1950s, who are mostly Jews.

Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy as Jean Tatlock and Robert Oppenheimer.
Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy as Jean Tatlock and Robert Oppenheimer.

The scientists showcased are Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb and an American Prometheus who gave Americans the power to destroy themselves, German and Jewish theoretical physicist Albert Einstein; American nuclear physicist Ernest Lawrence, physicist Lawrence Hill; Nobel Prize winner Danish Jew physicist Niels Bohr; Hungarian-American Jewish theoretical physicist and father of hydrogen bomb Edward Teller.

Nobel Prize winner experimental physicist Patrick Blackett; Nobel Prize-winning American Jewish physicist Isidor Rabi; German-American Jewish theoretical physicist Hans Bethe; Jewish physicist Robert Serber; American Jewish theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman; Czech-American scientist Jewish scientist Lilli Hornig; German-born theoretical physicist Klaus Fuchs; Nuclear physicist Edward Condon; physicist Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz.

Nobel prize winner physicist Enrico Fermi; Hungarian-German-American Jewish physicist Leo Szilard; Nobel Prize-winning German Jewish theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg; Nobel Prize-winning German nuclear physicist Walther Bothe; German Jewish physicist and Nobel Prize winner Max Born; German physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker; and German physicist Kurt Diebner and more.

Amateurs seek the sun and get eaten. The power lies in the shadow.

Lewis Strauss.

I think the film is meant for the scientific minds. Moreover, it cannot be fully comprehended without having some background knowledge of history concerning WWII and the invention of nuclear weapons.

However, for me, the most striking point was how the science and scientists were exploited for political purposes, how the questions of race behind building the atomic weapon were considered to be pivotal at a time when the Jewish diaspora produced some of the greatest minds in the history of science. When percussion and extermination by Adolf Hitler spread their scientific minds found America a safe refuge for scientific exploration while Hitler considered physics a Jewish science.

It is understandable why many of the scientists who worked with the Manhattan Project are Jews. With the death of Adolf Hitler and end of the fascism, communism became a new threat to America with the advent of the Cold War. The tension between the two countries capable of killing each other, the USA and the Soviet Union intensified, and being a communist turned out to be an act of crime, the kind Oppenheimer became a victim of.

Additionally, the film shows how important investment is in regard to scientific progress which America, as a first-world country, had the full privilege during a time when it needed to flex its muscle to maintain its upper hand. America was able to invest as much as two billion dollars and exploit the scientific minds of the time for its highhandedness.

When most of the countries were ripe with racism and Jews were subjected to rejection, Americans took advantage of their brilliance, at least until it was needed.

Not only does Oppenheimer 2023 film reveal Oppenheimer’s scientific brilliance, political victimisation, womanising character, and egotistical side of his personality, but it also shows how badly the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incident affected him psychologically after which he became a lifelong advocate for arms control.

Just as George Orwell said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Though there was no solid evidence that Oppenheimer was a communist supporter or a Soviet spy he was brought down to a common man by a most respected and famous American scientist of his time.

Conclusion

Though Oppenheimer 2023 can be considered to be a great film that reveals Robert Oppenheimer’s political and legal ordeal in a descriptive way, the film cannot be easily understood without some knowledge of physics and the political situation during WWII.  

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Oppenheimer 2023
Oppenheimer 2023 film review
Editor's Rating:
9.5

Pros

  • Great film to inform you about the history of atomic bomb.

Cons

  • Too long and with scientific terms and political complication.

Romzanul Islam

A proud Bangladeshi, and an unconventional thinking human with reasons who nurtures passions for reading, writing, researching and collecting the best books and watching the best films. Stoicism, liberalism, feminism and aversion to material success are my ideals.