Eli5: Oppenheimer movie plot


Just got out of watching the movie and can’t wrap my head around some of the plot lines. Anyone care to eli5?

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Back story – towards the end of the 1800’s scientists essentially believed they had “figured everything out”, the rest was just minor tweaks and details. A few key discoveries in the early 1900s changed everything, Einstein specifically, along with a few other scientists who appear in this film, developed new ideas that paved the way for the idea of atomic energy. So in the background of the film is this ‘mood’ of a handful of geniuses exploring a realm of physics that *no one else understood.* This mood was rife with conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic and anti-communist undercurrents.

Come WWII Einstein had done calculations that indicated that using atomic energy could result in a type of weapon the world couldn’t even imagine, a bomb to end all wars. He published some of his notes, as he didn’t fully figure out the whole process just the concept, and it was picked up by a few other scientists. Remember, *essentially no one understood the physics here, this was all new stuff*.

Eventually both the US and Germany realized this type of weapon could actually make sense and they should develop it to win the war. I don’t know exactly how the film handles it but history suggests that Germany was very suspicious of the technology as it was “Jewish Science” and didn’t go “all in” on development. It is also suggested that the scientists who worked on it in Germany intentionally “got it wrong” to prevent the weapon from actually being developed by the Nazis.

In the United States the program was super top secret and dubbed “The Manhattan Project” and Oppenheimer was put in charge of the development of a nuclear energy bomb. A significant question the movie, and Oppenheimer himself, grappled with was wondering if the bomb would kick off an unstoppable chain reaction with the Earth’s atmosphere. Sort of like lighting a match in a room full of gasoline would start a huge explosion, they believed the nuclear energy bomb could “detonate” the entire planet.

They decided to push through and detonate a test bomb anyway though they were very unsure exactly what would happen. The moral implications of “pushing through anyway” is also central to the movie’s plot as well as the story of the Manhattan Project.

If you’ve seen Jurassic Park there is the question “Your scientists were so concerned *if they could*, they never stopped to consider *if they should*.” That line is so central to Oppenheimer actually a real photo of Oppenheimer is featured in the background of the Jurassic Park film.

Anywho, the tested the weapon, it blew up and didn’t blow up the world, they used it to end WWII and Oppenheimer freaks out realizing the full implications of the horror he’s unleashed upon Humanity. The remainder are the political ups and downs of being an anti-war / anti-nuclear power agitator during the beginnings of the Cold War, remember the anti-Semitic / anti-Communist taint of “Jewish Science”, Oppenheimer’s ethnicity, and the basic mood of the day.