Oppenheimer: A Story of Creation and Disaster

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“I have blood on my hands.”

Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s epic biographical film becomes hype and a housefull as soon as it is released. Unlike all Nolan films, Oppenheimer also turns out to be the audience’s latest obsession, with its amazing acting, sound and outstanding direction. The Oppenheimer biographical film is based on a 2005 biographical novel called American Prometheus by Kai Bird. 

Pivoting around the secret operation of making, testing and finally dropping the two nuclear bombs on Japan’s Hiroshima first, and three days later on Nagasaki, wiping out lakhs of civilians. Along with talking about America’s success the film also shows the aftermath of the bombing of Dr Oppenheimer tearing him on moral grounds. In this biographical film review of Oppenheimer, we will discuss the biggest attack on mankind, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their impact and Dr Oppenheimer’s outlook before and after the bombing, and its repercussions, especially on him. 

Father of the Atomic Bomb

The biographical film begins with Oppenheimer being questioned regarding whether or not he should be given security clearance. Julius Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), tells his journey which begins with him as a 22-year-old student under Patrick Blackett at Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Later he completed his PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Gottingen in Germany. 

He returns to the United States and works as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology, working towards expanding quantum physics. Leslie Groves, the U.S. Army General offered Oppenheimer to lead the Manhattan Project which he accepted. Oppenheimer was a Jewish immigrant from Germany himself, born and brought up in New York. However, he convinced the General that he has no sympathies towards the communist. 

From then on begins the making of the first nuclear weapons called “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”. The operation remains a secret, in fact, an entire city is set up for the making of the bomb. The construction of the bomb began in 1939, its first testing took place in July 1945 and was dropped on Japan in the same year in August.

Following the two bombings, Japan agreed to surrender and thus the second world war finally came to an end. It was a big success for America. The Allies celebrated and Dr. Oppenheimer received huge fame. He came to be known as the Father of the Atomic Bomb but soon was filled with guilt and terror for his actions. 

In his journey, he met with many people, got involved in a relationship despite his wife and saw betrayal from his co-workers. In 1963, he received the Enrico Fermi Award, presented to him by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson for his political rehabilitation. The Oppenheimer biographical film ends with him talking to Einstein regarding the chain of reaction of the nuclear bomb and their fears coming true. 

Creation of the Destruction

We anticipate a fallout of our actions and decisions but the actual fallout need not necessarily fit into our anticipation. Dr Oppenheimer had expected the size of the explosion to be 0.3 kilotons of TNT. However, when he first tested the weapon in the deserts of Mexico, it turned out to be a size of nearly 21 kilotons of TNT, which is 15-20 times more than the expectation. It covered a diameter of 2000 feet and rose to 12 km in height. Its vibration was felt up to a distance of 160 km. 

It is also said that there was a steel tower on which the Gadget was hoisted and due to the heat produced by the bomb, the entire steel tower was evaporated. It is also said that the surrounding sand was transformed into a green glass called the Trinitite. 

America cheered on its success after bringing Japan to its knees after a long struggle. Its revenge for bombing Pearl Harbor was fulfilled. The nuclear bombing did not only defeat Japan, but it also brought the terrible, six-year-long World War II to an end. Dr Oppenheimer received fame for successfully completing the Manhattan Project. However, after all the cheering and clapping became muffled and then mute, Dr Oppenheimer welled up with guilt and the terror of his own actions. 

Dr Oppenheimer was deafened by the cries of the melted-down Japan. He realized that he had unleashed a deadly weapon in the hands of mankind. With such a fatal knowledge shared with the world, Oppenheimer knew that he had brought a definite end not only to mankind but also to morality. 

He could not undo this, but surely he could attempt to mitigate the loss and for that, he rushed to the then-newly appointed President, Harry S. Truman. He pleaded that the bombing must be seized immediately. He said he felt he had blood on his hand. In response, the president told him that the only person the world will blame will be Truman himself, and not Oppenheimer. 

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombing

The Second World War had nearly come to its end after Adolf Hitler shot himself, seeing Germany losing the War, compelling Germany to surrender. However, it was Japan that was still adamant about its decision not to surrender and fight till the end. Even though the USA was initially staying away from the War, after the bombing at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the following day President Roosevelt announced, “…a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

About four years before this, in 1939 USA had suspected that Nazi Germany was making a nuclear weapon and the USA must also prepare itself for the worst. But Germany was out of the way after Hitler’s death and Japan was, in the words of Truman “a beast.” Eventually, on August 8th, 1945, the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and three days later on August 9th, on Nagasaki. 

Though Dr. Oppenheimer celebrated his success after the first bombing and said that he wished to do the same with Germany, after the second bombing he was in shock. In the opinion of Dr Oppenheimer, the second bombing was unnecessary. Coming out of his naivete, he was horrified by the impact and guilt chewed on him internally. He wrote a letter to the Secretary of War in Washington, and delivered it himself, pleading that these nuclear weapons should be banned. 

“You don’t get to commit sin, and then ask all of us to feel sorry for you when there are consequences”

Humans and their Decisions

Japan had cruelly taken over many countries through war. Hence, President Truman made it clear, “Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.” He also added that if Japan does not accept their terms, then they must expect a rain of ruins from the air, which indeed happened after the bomb blast. However, what stands as the question of debate to date is whether the second bombing was absolutely necessary.

One school of thought, known as the Traditionalists, say that it was necessary since this event had prevented the Japanese invasion of the mainland and had saved more lives than it took. On the other hand, Revisionists believed that Japan would have surrendered after the first bombing anyway because it was attacked by the USSR from one side and the USA from the other. Furthermore, its people were exhausted and frustrated by the continued war, unemployment, lack of food, shelter, education, medical assistance and so on. 

The necessity of the second bonding, if viewed in terms of political factors, can be justified. The emperor of Japan, Hirohito, dreamt of ruling the world and hence was colonizing most of the allied countries. But the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which was entirely unprovoked, marked its end. It is observed that wiping out Hiroshima and leaving it with no assistance, medical or financial, was a lesser loss than what Japan was up to. 

Biggest Decision in History

Oppenheimer’s journey from the world of science to the world of politics and then ultimately his role in the biggest war of time and then his regret makes us ponder on humans and their decisions. What we miscalculate is the fact that though we take a decision, its impact is not in our hands. We also fail to foresee how others would react to the actions we take. 

However, viewed from the perspective of mankind and morality, it was a horrific event. It is believed that Albert Einstein, after the bombing, said, “Mankind invented the atomic bomb but no mouse would ever construct a mousetrap.” More than a political success, the bombing was perceived as an end to mankind. Even Dr Oppenheimer himself was terrified by the thought of him giving the world such a weapon. He wondered what would happen in the future. 

Hence, there is no definite answer to whether the decision was just or not. Nonetheless, it definitely shows the human potential to cause destruction. It also shows to what extent humans can go to win the war, whether it’s Japan or the USA. Though, at that time, the moral values of mankind were not the main matter and the explosion was the last option they had in hand, years later, in the present day multiple possibilities are observed that could have avoided the nuclear attack. 

Conclusion

Christopher Nolan has pushed both the audience experience and the level of modern cinema to new heights with every film he released. His films have provoked our thoughts. Its level of complexity has given new depth to the cinema levels. Previously in Dunkirk and now in this biographical film Oppenheimer, Nolan had shown a closer look at the war in this generation of violence. What makes his films stand out is not only the cinematic pleasure but also the facts that remain intact; and of course his play with the timeline. 

Even though the creation of the nuclear bomb was seen as an end to mankind, the good thing is that though many developing and developed nations own nuclear power, after the two bombings in Japan, no country has used nuclear weapons against each other. The end of World War II was the end of any world war till now. With one decision by the USA to use nuclear power against Japan, another decision of not using nuclear power unless extremely necessary was also taken unanimously, wordlessly, which is followed to this day. 

The impact of the nuclear bombing was terrible in Japan. It had altered their outlook entirely. Often in Japanese literature, fiction or nonfiction, their paintings, their films and animation we often get to see the idea of deformation, loneliness or alienation from technology, like Ringu, Ju – On, Howl’s Moving Castle, or Spirited Away. These films show the impact of nuclear bombing on people and their ideation. 

President Truman, giving his handkerchief to Dr Oppenheimer, said no one would blame him for creating the bomb. Rather, the world would blame Truman for dropping it. It was true indeed. After all, how many of us knew who was the mastermind behind creating the magnificent weapon of destruction? Such great films like Oppenheimer do deserve the buzz around them. 

Now I am become death. Destroyer of worlds”

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Ishika21

A nonchalant and evasive exterior acting as a smokescreen for my stubbornly volatile and sensitive self; you'll mostly find this homo sapient avoiding any and every chance at social interaction.
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Ishika21

A nonchalant and evasive exterior acting as a smokescreen for my stubbornly volatile and sensitive self; you'll mostly find this homo sapient avoiding any and every chance at social interaction.

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