Why Oppenheimer Doesn’t Show the Hiroshima or Nagasaki Bombings

Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed film delves into the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the pivotal figure in the development of the atomic bomb, portrayed brilliantly by Cillian Murphy. Based on the Pulitzer-winning biography “American Prometheus,” the film meticulously details Oppenheimer’s academic beginnings, his involvement in the Manhattan Project, and his subsequent fall from grace as government officials suppress him for criticizing his own creation. The narrative, enriched by meticulous research and a commitment to historical accuracy, includes various events such as a New Mexico camping trip and an impulsive apple poisoning. Notably, Nolan strategically omits the depiction of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, choosing instead to focus on the first test, political intricacies, and the psychological toll on Oppenheimer. Here’s why Oppenheimer doesn’t show the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombings: Nolan presents the bomb’s horrific effects through Oppenheimer’s stress-induced hallucinations, vividly portraying the aftermath without directly showcasing the events. The film captures Oppenheimer’s anticipation of President Harry S. Truman’s speech, revealing the $2 billion scientific gamble that resulted in a historic victory for the United States.

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ Stresses the Scientist’s Distance From the Violence

Some may perceive this as a significant lapse in judgment. While a platform focused on popular culture may not be the ideal venue for delving into the ethical complexities of nuclear warfare, the bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains an undeniable atrocity. Regardless of the argument for its necessity in preventing a more conventional invasion and potentially saving millions of lives (a debatable stance), the sheer brutality of the act stands as an undeniable historical fact. Comparable to events like the Trail of Tears and Abu Ghraib, every American citizen must grapple with the moral implications. The patterns of clothing seared into the skin serve as a visceral reminder — should the guilt of the white inventor of the bomb bear more weight than the hundreds of thousands who endured excruciating deaths?

The answer is unequivocally no. What adds a compelling layer to “Oppenheimer,” elevating it to the status of an extraordinary biopic, is its refusal to suggest otherwise. Remarkably, the film deliberately maintains a sense of detachment from the carnage, emphasizing its primary focus on the man himself. The choice of the title “Oppenheimer” over alternatives like “American Prometheus” or “Destroyer of Worlds” underscores this intense concentration on the individual. Much of the script unfolds in the first person, an unconventional approach in screenwriting, depicting events as if narrated by Oppenheimer himself. In his role as the leader of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, Oppenheimer exercises full control over the unfolding events — making critical personnel decisions, guiding the project’s trajectory, and confidently navigating interactions with the assertive military figure, Leslie Groves (played by Matt Damon). Yet, as the bomb is successfully tested, Oppenheimer soon discovers the profound limitations of his influence over his creation.

The loading of Fat Man and Little Boy into a military convoy marks a turning point, prompting Oppenheimer to inquire about his role in Washington to Groves, a staunch but gruff ally. Groves responds with a genuinely perplexed “Why?” highlighting that, from the military perspective, the scientist’s contribution is deemed complete. While Oppenheimer does find himself in a Cabinet meeting preceding the attacks, his influence is constrained, and discussions on potential targets unveil the arbitrary nature of the entire endeavor. Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s decision to spare Kyoto, based partly on personal sentimental reasons, serves as a disquieting example of America’s thoughtless exercise of power, even if the historical accuracy of this detail may be contested.

Oppenheimer’s Guilt Was Partially Self-Serving

The bombings unfold, and in tandem with Oppenheimer’s obliviousness, our perspective remains devoid of witnessing these cataclysmic events. While we observe the scientist’s internal turmoil, he, at this juncture, possesses no exclusive insight; as Nolan aptly notes, Oppenheimer is on par with the ordinary civilian on the home front. When Oppenheimer voices concerns to President Truman (played by Gary Oldman) about having “blood on his hands,” Truman retorts dismissively. He scornfully questions whether the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki care about the bomb’s creator and labels the scientist a “crybaby.” This callous response, shocking in its lack of empathy, serves to underline Oppenheimer’s dwindling influence and introduces another poignant theme: the weight of guilt, the ensuing consequences, and their true significance, or lack thereof.

Even prior to the successful testing of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer grapples with a myriad of reasons for guilt. His involvement with Jean Tatlock (portrayed by Florence Pugh) culminates in her death, shrouded in uncertainty—whether by suicide or homicide. Simultaneously, his dedication to the Manhattan Project renders him an absentee husband to Kitty (played by Emily Blunt). By the time the bomb is created and utilized by the U.S. military, Oppenheimer is transformed into a haunted shell of a man, bearing a gaunt appearance and a distant, thousand-yard stare. His earnest attempts to warn against the dangers of the hydrogen bomb and nuclear proliferation reveal a sincere belief in the gravity of his message.

However, there’s a self-serving aspect to his public penance, a point highlighted by both Kitty and Oppenheimer’s adversary Lewis Strauss (depicted by Robert Downey Jr.). Kitty asserts, “You don’t get to commit the sin and have the rest of us feel sorry for you for there being consequences,” applying not only to Oppenheimer’s affair but resonating with the creation of the bomb.

In the film’s singular instance, Oppenheimer directly confronts the horrors of the nuclear bomb. Unseen to the audience, a presenter shares slides of photographs taken in the aftermath of Hiroshima, displaying the effects of firestorms and radiation poisoning to an auditorium, including Oppenheimer. Despite his expressions of remorse, hand-wringing, and genuine fear for humanity’s future, Oppenheimer cannot muster the courage to look. This poignant moment transcends any dutiful depiction of atrocity, delivering a more impactful and damning commentary on the profound consequences of the bomb.

Summing It Up!

In conclusion, Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” emerges as a remarkable exploration of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life and his pivotal role in the development of the atomic bomb. Portrayed brilliantly by Cillian Murphy, the film meticulously captures Oppenheimer’s academic journey, involvement in the Manhattan Project, and subsequent fall from grace. Notably, the decision to omit the depiction of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings becomes a strategic choice by Nolan. Here’s why Oppenheimer doesn’t show the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombings: by focusing on the first test, political intricacies, and the psychological toll on Oppenheimer, Nolan vividly portrays the bomb’s horrific effects through the scientist’s stress-induced hallucinations. This deliberate omission underscores the film’s primary focus on Oppenheimer as an individual, steering away from conventional depictions of atrocity. As the narrative unfolds, Oppenheimer’s diminishing influence, guilt, and the consequential impact of his creation take center stage. The film’s unique perspective, coupled with Oppenheimer’s internal struggles, culminates in a thought-provoking and impactful commentary on the profound consequences of the atomic bomb.

Sanya Rehman

Sanya Rehman is our digital marketing guru, turning streaming buzz into booming business with her savvy strategies and contagious enthusiasm. She’s the secret sauce behind our viral success!
Expertise: Research Specialist
Education: Master in Business Administration

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