On July 21, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer hit theaters, in what was probably the most-anticipated release this summer—only matched by the toy-based satire Barbie to become the moment’s movie frenemies, storming the box office in a big box-office Barbenheimer weekend.
Nolan’s biographical film dramatizes the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the iconic physicist and wartime director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, as he and his fellow atomic scientists and engineers rushed to develop the first atomic bomb in the early 1940s.
The movie’s first reviews have brought it much critical acclaim and focus on the fascinating story of a man whom Nolan considers “the most important person who ever lived.” But the film is also, according to Nolan, a means for “getting back to basics about the bomb, stripping away policy statements, philosophy, the geopolitical situation and just looking at raw power that’s about to be unleashed and what that means for the people involved and means for all of us.”
To assess Oppenheimer’s portrayal of the atomic bomb, its development, and its impacts, the Bulletin invited physicists, historians, and other experts to comment on what the movie gets right (or wrong), what it leaves out, and whether it cuts corners. Taking highly complex scientific concepts and associated battles for power about arguably the most consequential invention in human history and turning those into a piece of art and entertainment promised to be a daunting task. So, does Nolan’s Oppenheimer rise to the challenge?
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