Oppenheimer Isn’t a Story About the Atomic Bomb — It’s About Ourselves

Amanda Claypool
12 min readJul 25, 2023
Photo by Felipe Albertella on Unsplash

Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated film, Oppenheimer, opened in theaters over the weekend. It beat expectations raking in a whopping $80.5 million in sales. Despite the ongoing labor strike in Hollywood, its release — alongside the Barbie movie — set records.

Running three hours, Oppenheimer tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist who became the father of the atomic bomb. The film is as much a biopic of his life as it is a history lesson of the Manhattan Project, the secret government program that led to the invention of nuclear weapons during World War II.

But that’s not all it is. In retrospect, the film is neither about the atomic bomb nor J. Robert Oppenheimer. It’s a story about what came after American Prometheus gave man the power to destroy the world.

Oppenheimer is a cautionary tale about technology and our role in the proliferation of it. Christopher Nolan didn’t create the movie just to break box office records. He did it to shed light on the ethical choices and unknowable consequences that emerge as a result of technological innovation.

This essay will dive into some important questions raised by the film. It will attempt to connect those questions to real events happening in our lives today. Just as J. Robert Oppenheimer ushered in a new world order with the weaponization of physics we’re on the precipice of doing the same thing with artificial intelligence.

The world is rapidly changing around us. With that change comes significant questions we all must contemplate.

The government doesn’t trust us. And we shouldn’t necessarily trust it either.

One of the biggest themes of the film is the relationship between the U.S. government and the scientists convened at Los Alamos in New Mexico. The military personnel in charge of the project fear there are spies within the ranks of the scientists. Meanwhile, the scientists, blinded by their ambition to achieve the unachievable, put too much faith in their government. Once hailed for their achievements, Oppenheimer and many of his colleagues face political persecution once the Manhattan Project comes to an end.

--

--

Amanda Claypool

I’m a writer & strategy consultant musing about the future of the world as it’s unfolding. Stay ahead of the curve: https://amandaclaypool.ck.page/reading-list