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The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

‘Oppenheimer’: A Thrilling and Tragic Biopic

Photo from IMDb

This review contains spoilers, mentions of explicit content, and mentions of suicide.  

Come on, Barbie, let’s go party! Oh, wait, wrong movie. Sorry, I watched way too many movies this summer. I’m talking about the other movie, the one that came out the very same day and did not cause a shortage in pink paint.  

I suppose this film is not great for people sensitive to flashing light, but I digress. At this point, you should know what movie I’m referring to. If you do not, then congratulations — you have been living under a rock and all of us at The Vector appreciate your dedication to coming back out into the sun and reading the articles that your fellow Highlanders work hard to write and publish.  

Without further ado, let’s go ahead with the summary. The movie starts off with the 22-year-old anxiety-riddled doctoral student Julius Robert Oppenheimer studying in Europe. Once he returns to the United States, he starts to teach at California Institute of Technology, where he gets more students interested in nuclear physics and meets Jean Tatlock, a communist psychologist with whom he has an affair.  

During his time teaching, he attends a few communist gatherings, where he meets his eventual wife, Katherine “Kitty” Puening. That stain on his record follows him throughout his career, festering distrust when he is eventually recruited to lead the Manhattan Project. While Oppenheimer is working on the project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, he finds out that Tatlock has committed suicide and is devastated.  

In a few months, the Trinity Project is a success and leads to the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima — despite Oppenheimer’s vocal opposition. Lewis Strauss, the Secretary of Commerce, is publicly humiliated by Oppenheimer during a talk about transporting radioactive material. In retaliation, Strauss decides to orchestrate a private hearing with a predestined outcome and successfully ruins Oppenheimer’s reputation and influence by heavily emphasizing Oppenheimer’s communist ties. 

In 1959, Oppenheimer’s peers from the Manhattan Project tell the Senate about Strauss’s vile motivations for destroying Oppenheimer. In the very last scene, the audience finally hears the conversation that Einstein had with Oppenheimer, who conveys his concerns about the future of atomic warfare and the destruction of the atmosphere and the planet. Einstein, on the other hand, tells him that humanity will find another way to destroy themselves with these new inventions.  

Before I go any further, I’d like to give this movie a solid 3.5 out of 5 crabs. Let’s analyze my reasoning for this rating. 

The movie is a visual masterpiece. It captures the effects of the bomb superbly and it has just the right pauses when it comes to the video and sound effects. During a scene in which the characters are all congratulating Oppenheimer on the success of the project, the screen becomes a bright white and the film is silent — a clever representation of Oppenheimer’s perspective and the guilt he feels.  

The roaring applause is drowned out by his thoughts as he imagines the people in front him withering away as a side effect of the bomb. His spiraling mind is clear just from the audio and visuals without blatant statements.  

The movie also has humorous moments. One man slathers on sunscreen just moments before testing, and another refuses to wear glasses as he thinks he is a macho man. The subtle humor in the movie is just enough to keep it from being awkward.  

With these moments of cinematic works of art, there come parts that weren’t necessary or pleasing to see. One of which is the trial room scene, when Tatlock was in her birthday suit sitting on top of Oppenheimer facing Kitty. I have nothing against nudity and sex in the media, but this felt out of place for me as I did not feel bothered by the other R-rated scenes in the movie. I know that it was to taunt Kitty about her husband’s infidelity, but there could have been other ways to show the hold she has over the married couple.  

Another issue that took a half point off for me is the fact we do not see the downfall of Strauss. Maybe I’m being too harsh here, but I wanted to see his reputation go downhill as he ruined Oppenheimer due to his own insecurities. He orchestrated the whole trial because both party’s values did not align;he threw a tantrum like a child and ruined a man’s career and reputation; and let’s not forget that he destroyed Oppenheimer’s mental stability because we knew that he was already feeling guilty for his actions, but the trial needled that point into him and eventually broke him. 

Finally, it got its last point off due to the sex scene when Tatlock holds up the Bhagavad Gita against her bare skin and carries on with physical activities after asking Oppenheimer to read from it. I am not the most religious person, but I do have a certain amount of respect for scripture and carry on some facets of Hindu culture with me. The Bhagavad Gita is a sacred text that has been around for generations, and I respect that book, just as members of other religions hold their books in high regard.  

Oppenheimer’s quoting of the book was historically accurate, but he quoted it at the explosion in Los Alamos. I also understand the symbolism contained within the quote: Oppenheimer talks about the destroyer of worlds in Hindu scripture, symbolizing the destruction that will be caused by his work and the damage he is inflicting on his marriage. 

 There is a time and place for everything, but I personally believe this was not it.  

Overall, this was a great film but just not something I would like to watch repeatedly. 

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Vaishnavi Kodali, Staff Writer
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