‘Oppenheimer’ Ending, Explained: Was Robert Oppenheimer A Soviet Spy?


Oppenheimer lives up to its hype, and we can say that it is one of the best works that Nolan has produced and that too when we are talking of a filmography where each and every film is no less than a masterpiece. What we liked about Oppenheimer is that the director refrains from stating the obvious, and that too at the cost of disappointing the masses. Yes, the film is about the man who created the first atomic bomb, but more than the bombing itself, the film focuses on the dilemmas, conflicts, indecisiveness, regret, and guilt of the creator. It’s not easy to sum up the kind of impact the film had on us but let us still try to understand the perspectives of the characters and how their actions changed the world forever. So, let’s find out who Robert Oppenheimer was, what he thought, what he wanted to achieve, and if he was ever able to escape the ghosts of his past.

Spoilers Alert

How Did Oppenheimer Build An A-Bomb?

Christ College, Cambridge, didn’t turn out as Robert Oppenheimer wanted it to. He despised the lab work, and he wanted to just focus on the theoretical bit, but obviously, his course didn’t allow him that privilege. Robert was feeling so frustrated with everything that one time, he decided to poison his own teacher and kill him. We believe that had Robert stayed there in Cambridge for any longer, he would have gone insane, but luckily, fate had other things planned for him. Robert was born to achieve greatness, and no obstacle was big enough to stop him from doing that. Niels Bors, who was known for his work in quantum physics, told Robert that he should join the University of Gottingen and be Max Born’s disciple. Niel’s brother had been quite impressed by the questions that Robert had asked him when he had given a lecture at Harvard and also when he came to Cambridge. Niels asked Robert why he asked him the same question twice, and Robert replied that he didn’t like his answer at Harvard. Nile Bors was quite impressed by the young Oppenheimer, and he advised him to go to Gottingen, as the university was known for providing the best education when it came to theoretical physics.

Robert met Isidor Rabi during a conference where he was supposed to give a lecture, and at that moment, Robert didn’t know that Rabi would become one of his closest friends in the years to come and stand alongside him through thick and thin. After finishing his doctorate from the University of Gottingen, Robert got a lot of offers from all over the world, but he always wanted to go back to the United States of America and introduce quantum mechanics, as that branch of physics was totally non-existent there up until then. It was ironic that the person who was accused of being disloyal towards his own country had once rejected working on a paper with his idol, the great German scientist Heisenberg, and told him that he wanted to go back and work with the young minds of his nations and put his knowledge to the benefit of his people. Even Heisenberg was taken aback, as every physicist in the world was dying to work with him, and here was a man who didn’t even think twice before letting go of his offer.

Things changed after President Roosevelt received a letter from Albert Einstein, who, in broad strokes, said that uranium could be used to produce energy, and since Germany had stopped the sale of that element altogether, they might be on the lookout for creating an atomic bomb. That letter made Roosevelt lay the foundation of the Manhattan Engineering District, and that’s when Leslie Groves Jr., who was in charge of the project, was asked to recruit scientists who would make this miracle happen. Los Alamos became the home of almost all the renowned American physicists of that time, and together they sought to achieve the unthinkable.

Robert named the bomb test “Trinity,” and together with his team of scientists, he was able to pull it off on July 16, 1945, just before President Truman’s conference in which the Soviet Union was going to take part. It would be safe to assume that, though Robert knew about the consequences of bombing another nation, he kept his doubts aside and closed his eyes, believing that whatever he was doing was for the benefit of the nation. But the war was already over, as Hitler had died and the Japanese were on the verge of defeat, though we agree that they were not yet ready to surrender. There were people who asked him if they should just demonstrate to the Japanese what the atomic explosion could do, but Oppenheimer wanted to test it out, and he was giving himself all sorts of reasons to justify his claims.

Was Oppenheimer Given The Security Clearance?

Lewis Strauss knew that he wouldn’t let Oppenheimer be the martyr he wanted to be. He wanted to take away all the attention that Oppenheimer was getting and condemn him to a fate of obscurity and insignificance. But obviously, it was not easy to insult and demean Robert and make his life miserable when the entire nation was celebrating him, and he had become the best salesman of science. Lewis Strauss hatched a plan, and he asked his friend, J. Edgar Hoover, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to track his movements and see if they could find anything on him. He gave the file that the FBI had maintained on Oppenheimer to a man named William L. Borden, and that’s how the entire conspiracy started taking shape.

Borden wrote a letter to the administration in which he claimed that Oppenheimer was a Soviet spy. Lewis Strauss thought that he could get the better of him if he collected all the people who had some kind of conflict or enmity towards Robert and got them to testify before the Atomic Energy Commission. Oppenheimer was questioned about his relationship with Haakon Chevalier and if he had given him the information that was going to be given to the Soviet Union. In reality, the claims were false, as Robert never shared any information, but the fault that he committed was that he did not report the matter, which made Roger Robb and other members of the panel question his credibility.

Robert’s relationship with Jean Tatlock also came to light, as Jean was a staunch communist, and Robert met her from time to time. Robert did adhere to communist ideologies, and from his student Rossi Lomanitz to his brother Frank Oppenheimer, he was surrounded by communists. Oppenheimer also transferred funds to communist parties in Europe so that they could use them for the cause of refugees, but he never believed that all this could be held against him. Robert had a clear conscience, and no matter how much Roger Robb tried grilling him, the testimonies of people like Leslie Grover, Isidor Rabi, and his own wife really helped his cause. The panel didn’t have any substantial evidence that could corroborate their theory, so they had to say in the end that all the allegations that they had made were baseless, though they still didn’t give Robert the security clearance that he was fighting for.

Why Was Lewis Strauss Against Oppenheimer?

Lewis Strauss always felt that Robert Oppenheimer defamed him in front of the scientists, and specifically said something to Albert Einstein that had made him turn a cold shoulder towards him. Lewis set Robert up and made it look like it was Borden and others who were advocating against him. Lewis played it close to his chest, and he didn’t let even his closest allies know what he was trying to do. Lewis had been demeaned by Robert during a public hearing, and though he pretended that he had taken it all in good spirit, he had not. He held onto it, and when the time came, he wanted to give it back to the genius physicist. Robert might have been a bit rude towards Strauss, but even he wouldn’t have imagined that Strauss would go to such an extent and become the sole reason behind all the trouble in his life. Lewis had made it his mission to strip the father of the atomic bomb of all his credibility, though he was never able to do that completely.

There were a bunch of scientists who also opposed his nomination for the secretary of commerce, as they felt that he had acted in an unfair manner with Oppenheimer. Eventually, the Senate did not conform to his appointment, and though it bruised his ego, he knew that he couldn’t do anything about it. David L. Hill, who was one of the scientists who had signed Szilard’s petition, testified against Lewis in the Senate hearing, and that really sealed the outcome of the proceedings.

Oppenheimer Ending Explained: Was J. Robert Oppenheimer Able To Redeem Himself?

Christopher Nolan makes it very clear that his film is about the myriad of internal conflicts that our indecisive and convoluted physicist faced on a daily basis and how he aimed to attain salvation amidst chaos and that unescapable regret that confined him. Robert was told by his wife, Kitty, and even the great Einstein that he should not entertain the atomic energy commission, and if they wanted to revoke his security clearance, then he should tell them to go ahead with it. Robert also knew very well that the AEC needed him more than he needed them, but he still took part in the hearing to be insulted and ridiculed in a manner that no physicist who had worked with him could have ever imagined.

Oppenheimer’s loyalty was put to question, and that was probably the most unfair thing that could happen to a man of his ideologies and stature. Robert thought that by putting himself through that ordeal, he would be able to feel less burdened, but that was never going to happen. Robert had blood on his hands, and though he might have tried to justify his stance at the beginning of the Manhattan Project, he realized with time that he was just fooling himself. He had the option of not dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but at that time, the inquisitive scientist in him didn’t let him stop. He was fooling himself by giving himself all kinds of illogical reasons, and because the government favored the dropping of the bombs, he got a lot of validation for his views. But soon, even the loud sound of the applause was not able to suppress the cries of devastation.

There is a moment captured by Nolan that could be considered one of the best cinematic moments in the history of filmmaking, and the way he depicts the internal carnage that the man was experiencing at that time is tragic yet mesmerizing. After the Hiroshima bombings, people in Los Alamos Laboratory cheered with joy for their national hero. Oppenheimer had become a household name, and he was the face of every magazine. Yet, when he walked amidst those joyful faces, he could only feel how he had become the destroyer of worlds.

It was true that Oppenheimer was not a Soviet spy, and he never intended to go against his nation, but he also couldn’t deny the fact that had he wanted, he could have stopped the destruction. Once he asked Albert Einstein if there would be a chain reaction in the atmosphere if they blew up the atomic bomb, and in the end, he got the answer to that question. Little Boy and Fat Man had started a chain reaction more lethal than any other known to mankind. Oppenheimer tried putting out that fire, but it was too late. Today, we know J. Robert Oppenheimer was the father of the atomic bomb and also the man who gave the world a tool for its own destruction, for which he was never forgiven.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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