“Oppenheirmer”: Reluctant Father of American atom bomb


“Oppenheirmer”: 182 minutes

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Starring Cillian Murphy, Florence Pug, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr and Emily Blunt, Music – Ludwig Goransson, Cinematography – Hoyte Van Hoytema, editing – Jennifer Lame, producers – Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan.

Rama Krishna Sangem

There is a scene (in the 2nd half) in the movie – when Dr Oppenheirmer meets US President Harry S Truman in White House  after atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan and says that he feels blood on his hands.  Then, Truman replies: “People of Hiroshima, Nagasaki care a damn who built the bomb, they just care about who dropped it, I did it”.

Of course, Dr Oppenheirmer is not convinced. Dr J Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist is considered Father of Atom Bomb that was dropped on Japanese cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki – on August 6 and 9, 1945 during the World War -II. The justification for America to drop the bombs was to end the war, as Japan refused to surrender, even after Germany gave up. If the war ends, the US soldiers can come home.

The movie is based on Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin‘s 2005 biography – American Prometheus. Prometheus is a Greek God who brings fire to the Earth. So is Oppenheirmer who discovers equally fiery atom bomb apparently to prevent future wars of humanity, as a deterrence. But, he is not sure, he is not clear in his mind on leading a project called Project Manhattan – formed to make atom bomb in 1942-45.


Won’t miss Nolan mark

Besides the basic story-line, cinema halls are packed to near full, because of audience craze for Christopher Nolan’s movies. Of all the films of him, this one, Oppenheimer is easily comprehensible, though the narration is non-linear – story moves back and forth. Nolan has a done wonderful job by not boring us though Oppenheirmer occupies the giant screen for 90 per cent of the three hours run time.

The story spans over Oppenheimer’s studies in Cambridge to his heading Manhattan Project in the US and finally he being conferred an award in recognition of his services to America, in building atom bomb. Oppenheimer’s constant churning of intellect and his liberal ideology and compassion for humanity and commitment to duty to serve the country are well captured in the film.

Dr Oppenheimer is accused of being sympathetic to communist ideology and befriending with communists – his brother as well as his lover especially. His was in two minds on building hydrogen bomb, more lethal than atom bomb too is doubted for his disloyalty to the US. Of course, Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr), Atomic Energy Commission chairman is jealous of Dr Oppie’s fame and genius.

Finally, Dr Oppenheimer emerges unscathed from all accusations and enters the history of humanity. President Linda Johnson and John F Kennedy rehabilitate him and his dignity in scientific community. If prolonged trial room drama is not boring, it is because of action of Matt Damon as General Leslie Grove, project in charge and Emily Blunt as Katharine Kitty Oppenheimer. Florence Fug as Oppenheimer’s lover too is memorable.


America suspected Soviet most

This movie is interesting to those who want to know about world politics around 1945. Though the US and Soviet Union were allies and fought Nazi Germany and Japan together, America suspected Russia most, “Communists are bigger threat to the US,” was the general opinion among American security establishment. That’s why came McCarthyism in 1950s – where Joseph McCarthy systematically removed all communist supporters from American institutions.


Bhagawad Gita controversy

In India, some BJP leaders including Union I&B Minister Anurag Thakur protested reciting of Bhagawad Gita line by Oppenheimer in a bedroom scene with his wife. She asks him to read those lines aloud- meaning of Lord Vishnu (Krishna) saying: “I am the destroyer” . Nolan may have included this line to tell us that Oppenheimer too followed Bhagawad Gita’s cardinal rule that one must do his duty, irrespective of outcome.

Nolan took particular  care to showcase history, especially the character of Albert Einstein, whose quantum theory is basis for atom bomb. Einstein is senior to Oppenheimer, but they meet and discuss what’s happening during WW-II. Nolan clearly shows they both – Einstein and Oppenheimer  – are wary of catastrophic consequences of atom bomb (Interestingly some are now saying this applies to AI too).

After all, polices are made by political leaders, scientists are just instrumental. We cannot but enthralled by fast editing and pulsating music. Cinematography of Hoytema competes with Nolan’s screenplay. A must watch for not just Nolan fans, but all those who don’t want anymore wars in the world. We need to wait till March 2024 to know, if Murphy bags an Oscar.

Rama Krishna Sangem

Ramakrishna chief editor of excel India online magazine and website

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Rama Krishna Sangem

Excel India national news magazine is a media startup founded and piloted by Rama Krishna Sangem, a Hyderabad based senior journalist with over three decade experience in the field of media, mostly in print journalism. His rich experience in reporting for both Telugu and English newspapers and heading a TV news channel and some online outfits will be of immense use to this venture. Excel India English news magazine seeks to fill the gap of analytical understanding to our readers who today are confronted with myriad media platforms. Our online version not only offers regular updates and commentary on happenings around us, but also gives larger stories not limited by space constraints of a print magazine. Excel India is ably run by a team of senior journalists committed to values and quality standards in the profession. We urge you all to support and guide us in this endeavour. Reach us at excelindiaweb123@gmail.com