‘Oppenheimer’: The brilliant physicist and the nuclear bomb


Directed by Christopher Nolan, this film, biography and thriller, tells about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant theoretical physicist responsible for America’s first nuclear bomb. Oppenheimer is played by Cillian Murphy, and the film is based on the book by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.”

Beginning with Oppenheimer’s early studies at Harvard in 1922, the film describes his recruitment to head the code-named Manhattan Project during World War II in 1942. The first part of the film spends time on Oppenheimer’s research, involving positrons, electrons, and cosmic rays, as well as neutron stars and black holes. 

Worried about the Nazis’ impending development of an atomic bomb, Oppenheimer heads to Los Alamos, N.M., to begin work on the U.S. atomic bomb. The research and development organization resulted in 31 Nobel prizewinners, many of them refugees from fascist countries. Although Oppenheimer was nominated for a Nobel Prize three times, he never won it. He served as director of the Manhattan Project, and was often called “the father of the atomic bomb.” He believed the bomb would be responsible for ending wars.

Oppenheimer marries German-American Kitty Puening (Emily Blunt), a biologist and former communist. He also has an affair with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), also a communist, who took her own life in 1944. The movie gives more attention to the women than was really the case. 

Oppenheimer begins work with Enrico Fermi and David L. Hill, along with Albert Einstein. Plutonium, a radioactive chemical element necessary for the atomic bomb, was developed. In one scene, the film shows the scientists lying in bunkers to watch the explosion and mushroom cloud. Atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Oppenheimer is shown expressing concern for this use of the bombs.

Later, Oppenheimer is shown appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he admitted his former ties to the Communist Party, although he was not a member.

In addition to Murphy, Blunt, and Pugh, other prominent actors include Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Matt Damon as Leslie Groves, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer who directed the Manhattan Project.

The film focuses on Oppenheimer’s involvement with the Manhattan Project and his security clearance issues. It shifts between black and white and color cinematography to make a powerful production.

Information and tickets to “Oppenheimer” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.