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‘Oppenheimer’ Controversy - Explosive Disputes Disclosed One By One

There’s a new movie that explores one man’s scientific brilliance. It’s a film about his moral dilemmas about the weapon he helped create, and the far-reaching consequences of the atomic bomb. The “Oppenheimer” controversy makes it even more interesting to watch.

Author:James Pierce
Reviewer:Paolo Reyna
Aug 02, 20232.3K Shares123.2K Views
So, now that the public has started to see the movie across the globe, people have also begun talking about the Oppenheimercontroversy.
Who’s Oppenheimer? What’s with him, anyway? Why make a movie about a man who has been dead for 56 years already?
A lot has been said about how incredible - and controversial - the film is.
Let’s dig in together into the Oppenheimercontroversy (spoilers ahead).

Oppenheimer: The Man Behind the Bomb | A "Countdown to Zero" Exclusive | TakePart

Who Is J. Robert Oppenheimer?

J. Robert Oppenheimer, born Julius Robert Oppenheimer on April 22, 1904, was an American theoretical physicist.
He was one of the key figures in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II (September 1939-September 1945).
Oppenheimer is often referred to as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” for his significant contributions to the Manhattan Project (more about this later).
That U.S. government project successfully created the world’s first nuclear weapons. The Oppenheimercontroversy mainly touches on this one.
Key highlights in Oppenheimer’s life include:
a. Early Life and Education
Oppenheimer was born in New York City to a wealthy Jewish family.
He displayed exceptional academic talents from an early age and later studied at Harvard University, where he excelled in physics and chemistry.
b. Quantum Mechanics and Academic Career
After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Gottingen in Germany, Oppenheimer returned to the United States and became a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
He made significant contributions to quantum mechanics and theoretical physics, earning a reputation as one of the leading scientists of his time.
c. Los Alamos Laboratory
Oppenheimer led the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, where top scientists and engineers worked together to design, build, and test the atomic bomb.
Under his guidance, the project achieved a successful test of the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, in what became known as the Trinity Test.
This one becomes a part of the Oppenheimercontroversy.
d. Controversy and Security Clearance Revocation
Despite his contributions to the war effort, Oppenheimer faced controversy during the early stages of the Cold War (March 1947-December 1991).
He expressed concerns about the uncontrolled development of nuclear weapons and advocated for international control and cooperation.
This led to accusations of Communist sympathies, and for that, in 1954, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission:
  • revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance
  • effectively blacklisted him from government work
e. Later Career and Legacy
After his security clearance was revoked, Oppenheimer faced significant personal and professional challenges.
He returned to academia and continued to contribute to theoretical physics, though he was no longer involved in classified government projects.
His contributions to science were widely recognized, and he received numerous honors and awards.
Oppenheimer passed away on February 18, 1967.
Despite the controversies and adversities that he faced, his scientific legacy remained intact, and he is remembered as a brilliant physicist and a key figure in shaping the nuclear age.
A smiling Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh seated beside each other, with the ‘Oppenheimer’ movie poster
A smiling Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh seated beside each other, with the ‘Oppenheimer’ movie poster

‘Oppenheimer’ Movie

The controversial American film Oppenheimer (2023)tackles the life of the equally (perhaps even more) controversial Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967).
The Oppenheimercontroversy emerges from this movie.
It’s based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), which won the ‎Pulitzer Prize for Biography.
American historian Martin J. Sherwin (1937-2021) and award-winning American biographer and columnist Kai Bird wrote it.
By the way, in Greek mythology, Prometheus was the one who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. For his bold action, the gods punished him.
Oppenheimer (2023)is a star-studded cast, to say the least, with huge Hollywood names as part of the billing, including:
  • Emily Bluntas Oppenheimer’s wife, the German-American biologist and botanist Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer (1910-1972)
  • Matt Damonas Leslie Groves (1896-1970), an engineer and part of the Manhattan Project
  • Robert Downey Jr.as Lewis Strauss(1896-1974), member of the dissolved U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (1946-1975)
  • Josh Hartnettas nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize awardee Ernest Lawrence(1901-1958)
  • Rami Malekas nuclear physicist David L. Hill (1919-2008); a part of the Manhattan Project
The Oppenheimercontroversy involves a scene with English actress Florence Pugh in it.
Oscar-winning English actor Gary Oldman appeared in the film as Harry S. Truman (1884-1972).
Truman’s the U.S. president (from April 1945-January 1953) who ordered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War II.
At 81, Scottish actor Tom Conti, recipient of the Laurence Olivier Award and Tony Award, played the role of the famous theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955).
About the MovieDetails
GenreBiography, Drama, History
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)Rated R
Lead RoleCillian Murphy as Oppenheimer
DirectorChristopher Nolan
Release Date (USA)July 21, 2023
Running Time3 hours
Budget$100 million

Why Is ‘Oppenheimer’ Movie Controversial?

British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan is known for several Hollywood blockbuster films, including the Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer action/sci-fi film Inception (2010)and three Batmanmovies.
In Oppenheimer- another box office hit with worldwide ticket sales of $405.5 million (as of this writing), per Box Office Mojo - Nolan explored issues and showed scenes deemed controversial.
Not to mention, he did not showcontroversial scenes which many believe should have been includedin the film, and as such only added to the list of controversies the movie is facing.
Let’s discuss the Oppenheimercontroversy below.

Oppenheimer | New Trailer

Oppenheimer Atomic Bomb Test

As mentioned earlier, the first atomic bomb was tested (the Trinity Test) in 1945 in New Mexico under the leadership and supervision of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
On its website American TV station KRQE reported about the frustration felt by the founders and members of New Mexico-based Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium or TBDC (est. 2005).
This advocacy group is, according to its website:
Seeking justice for the unknowing, unwilling, and uncompensated innocent victims of the July 16, 1945 Trinity Test in South Central, New Mexico.- Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC)
Tina Cordova, TBDC’s co-founder, told KRQE that Christopher Nolan opted not to show in Oppenheimerthe adverse effects of the said atomic bomb test to New Mexicans.
This is another Oppenheimercontroversy.
As Cordova revealed:
I am the fourth generation of my family to have cancer since 1945. I had two great-grandfathers living in Tularosa at the time of the test. They both died within 10 years from cancer at a time where we had never heard the word ‘cancer’ in our community.- Tina Cordova
Among other concerns, Cordova demands that the U.S. government grant medical compensation to all affected New Mexicans.
According to an article by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in Washington, D.C., “thousands of residents developed cancers and diseases” as a result of the atomic bomb test.
The government also did not issue any warning nor provided safety guidelines to New Mexicans before and after the test was conducted.
Then the number of infants who died and people who got diagnosed with cancer rose as months and years passed.
Note that the atomic bomb detonated in New Mexico was more powerful than the one dropped in Hiroshima, Japan.
These revelations only intensify the Oppenheimercontroversy.
A yellow-orange mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke forms as the atomic bomb detonates in New Mexico, U.S.
A yellow-orange mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke forms as the atomic bomb detonates in New Mexico, U.S.

The Manhattan Project

With the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. government initiated the top-secret Manhattan Project (headquartered in Los Alamos, New Mexico) to develop an atomic bomb.
Oppenheimer was appointed as the scientific director of the project in 1942 due to his expertise in theoretical physics and his leadership skills.
At the Los Alamos Laboratory, Oppenheimer oversaw the development of the atomic bomb.
The scientists there worked on two main approaches to develop the bomb:
  • the gun-type uranium bomb (code name: Little Boy)
  • the implosion-type plutonium bomb (code name: Fat Man)

Jean Tatlock Cause Of Death

As a bachelor, J. Robert Oppenheimer formed a romantic relationship with American psychiatrist Jean Tatlock (1914-1944). He continued his relationship with her even after he got married.
This one deals with the Oppenheimercontroversy previously mentioned. Florence Pugh plays Jean Tatlock.
According to The Telegraph, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) placed Tatlock under surveillance because of her political inclinations as a Communist Party member.
Her cause of death was recorded as suicide - she drowned herself in the bathtub - but in the movie (spoiler alert!), it was suggested that she didn’t take her own life. Rather, it appeared that she was murdered.
Long before the conception and filming of Oppenheimer, there has already been a conspiracy theory surrounding the real cause of the death of Jean Tatlock.
Did she commit suicide as she lost her battle with clinical depression? Or did she get murdered because of her relation to Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project director?
Christopher Nolan’s movie revived the debate surrounding Tatlock’s death - another Oppenheimercontroversy.
Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock looking at a man with his back on the camera in ‘Oppenheimer’
Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock looking at a man with his back on the camera in ‘Oppenheimer’

Oppenheimer Poison Apple

British experimental physicist Patrick M.S. Blackett (1897-1974), who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948, became a tutor to J. Robert Oppenheimer in Cambridge.
Well, according to stories, Oppenheimer one time got so furious with Professor Blackett that he intended to kill him by putting toxic chemicals - many reports say it’s cyanide - on his tutor’s apple.
Whether or not there’s truth in this story, it’s part of the film and therefore of the Oppenheimercontroversy.
According to Business Insider, it could be hard to establish if Oppenheimer was being honest when he told his friends about it.

Bhagavad Gita In ‘Oppenheimer’

After witnessing the Trinity Test (the detonation of the atomic bomb in New Mexico), Oppenheimer famously quoted a line from the Bhagavad Gita:
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.- Julius Robert Oppenheimer
He said it in a television interview, a clip of which was uploaded by NBCUniversal Archives on its YouTube channel (@nbcuarchives) in 2015.
The Bhagavad Gita, often referred to simply as the Gita, is a sacred Hindu scripture that is part of the Indian epic Mahabharata.
It is a 700-verse dialogue between Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna, who serves as his charioteer.
Given that the Bhagavad Gitais one of the most important and revered texts in Hindu philosophy and spirituality, imagine the horror and outrage of Indians upon learning what Christopher Nolan showed in his movie.
Another Oppenheimercontroversy indeed (spoiler alert!).
In a sex scene between J. Robert Oppenheimer and Jean Tatlock, the latter asked the former to read something from the Bhagavad Gita.
Oppenheimer did so - while they were having sexual intercourse.
According to The Quint, Anurag Thakur, India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister, called for the scene’s deletion.
On July 22, 2023, Indian journalist Uday Mahurkar uploaded on X (Twitter’s new name) his letter to Nolan, where he stated that his film made “a scathing attack on Hinduism.”
Mahurkar, who is also the founder of Save Culture Save India (SCSI) Foundation, added that the controversial sex scene:
  • “is a direct assault on religious beliefs”
  • “amounts to waging a war on the Hindu community”
This particular Oppenheimercontroversy angered a lot of Indians, including the Hindu organization Vishva Hindu Parishad (est. 1964).
Three persons in black clothes walk amidst destroyed structures in Hiroshima; a mushroom cloud in Nagasaki
Three persons in black clothes walk amidst destroyed structures in Hiroshima; a mushroom cloud in Nagasaki

Atomic Bombings Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki

In his article for BBC Culture, London-based writer, author, and podcaster Dorian Lynskey noted how the movie lacks one significant scene, which it’s supposed to show given its storyline.
The culmination of the Manhattan Project came with the deployment of the atomic bombs.
On August 6, 1945, the “Little Boy” bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later, on August 9, 1945, the “Fat Man” bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
These bombings led to Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II.
The Oppenheimercontroversy here is that the film did not include the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Throughout the film’s 180-minute run, Nolan didn’t even spare some minutes for it. Perhaps he never even intended to include it at all.

People Also Ask

What Did Oppenheimer Say To Albert Einstein?

This question refers to the ending of Oppenheimer.
In the film’s closing scene, part of their conversation went on like this:
Actor/PersonDialogue
Tom Conti as Albert Einstein“What of it?”
Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer“I believe we did.”
According to an article by RadioTimes.com, Einstein was talking about the atomic bomb’s probable destructive impact on the whole world.
Oppenheimer’s response to Einstein’s question indicates that he indirectly acknowledged the fact that his works for the Manhattan Project would eventually lead to other versions - more modern, more powerful - of the atomic bomb.

Did Oppenheimer Know About Hiroshima?

According to a July 2023 NBC report, the U.S. government didn’t inform J. Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists working on the Manhattan Project when the bombs would be detonated.

Why Did Oppenheimer Apologize?

Based on another NBC report published in July 2023, there is no record that can confirm if J. Robert Oppenheimer ever issued a public apology about his contributions to the creation of the atomic bomb.
However, based on American Prometheusand on the movie itself, it could be deduced that Oppenheimer expressed a certain level of sorrow when he told President Truman that he had “blood on [his] hands.”

Final Thoughts

The Oppenheimercontroversy involves the New Mexicans - the first victims of the atomic bomb - the Indians, the Japanese, and, of course, the U.S. government.
It also involves director Christopher Nolan.
J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life reflects the dual nature of scientific discoveries, where groundbreaking advancements can have profound consequences, both positive and negative, for humanity.
His work on the atomic bomb changed the course of history and established nuclear weapons as a defining feature of the modern world.
As for the movie about him, the Oppenheimercontroversy will continue to be talked about long after the movie ends its theatrical run.
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James Pierce

James Pierce

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Paolo Reyna

Paolo Reyna

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