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  • Writer's pictureKen Murray

Oppenheimer - A Great Movie about a Great American Hero

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Shelly and I saw the movie "Oppenheimer" today. It's a 3-hour masterpiece from director Christopher Nolan about American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his leadership on the Manhattan Project during World War II (here's the trailer).

J Robert Oppenheimer
J Robert Oppenheimer

The first hour of the film is Oppenheimer's life before and after World War II, as a young, theoretical physicist who caught the attention of Nils Bohr and Albert Einstein, and explored the philosophy of the American Communist party and friended some of it's members, and as a post-war hero who got caught up in Senator McCarthy's anti-American witch-hunts of suspected Communists and sympathizers in the 1950's. The film kept going back and forth between Oppenheimer's early life and the staged hearing that took away his security clearance, and it took me a short while to adjust to Nolan's story telling. But after 10 minutes or so, I was firmly engrossed.

The next hour or so was about Oppenheimer's appointment as director of the Manhattan Project in 1942, and his leadership of 4000 men and women scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico who in three years, turned theory into reality and built the atomic bombs that probably ended World War II in the Pacific. This segment was really interesting as it showed the personal and moral conflicts the scientists went through in coming to terms with using science to develop a mass-killing weapon.

The last hour was Oppenheimer's dealing with a sham Atomic Energy Commission hearing that brought up his past interactions with communists and his personal conflicts with the morality of building a superbomb (the hydrogen bomb) to revoke his security clearance, thereby effectively ending his professional career. He was eventually exonerated and given a Presidential medal by President Johnson.

The film also showed Oppenheimer as a womanizer and one who smoked constantly (he died of throat cancer in the mid-1960's). It showed him as a leader who, with no discernable previous experience leading an enormous project with thousands of men and women, built Los Alamos from ground-up and fostered the relationships and respect necessary to carry out what was probably the greatest scientific undertaking in the history of the world (probably only overshadowed by the American space program in the 1960's).

Finally, the film projected Oppenheimer as an American hero, and one that was mistreated by certain members of the U.S. Government. It reminded me of what Alan Turing, the father of computer science and artificial intelligence and one of the leaders who broke the Nazi Enigma code, went through in the 1950's with the British government who persecuted and prosecuted him for being a homosexual.

It's a great film, and 9 out of 10 for me. Cillian Murphy will certainly get an Oscar nomination for best actor. Go see it.

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