‘Oppenheimer’ Plot And Possible Storyline: What Can We Expect?


There is an intriguing piece of information in the documentary To End All Wars that we cannot stop thinking about. Richard Rhodes talks about a childhood incident that had a deep impact on J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life. Oppenheimer had gone to a summer camp where some kids roughed him up. They locked him inside an icehouse at night without clothes and painted him green from top to bottom. Surprisingly, Oppenheimer didn’t protest against such harassment. He didn’t complain about the humiliation and pain he was made to endure at the moment. But it was bound to have an impact and we believe all those thoughts and troubles piled up, resulting in an identity crisis and nervous breakdown in the later stages of Oppenheimer’s life.

If we refer to the documentary, then the scientific community never wanted someone like Oppenheimer to lead the atomic bomb project. He was inexperienced and had never been a part of such large-scale research. Oppenheimer himself was having an identity crisis and was suicidal during his college years until he went to Germany to study under a theoretical physicist named Max Born. It seems important to mention that practical physics was never Oppenheimer’s forte, which is why he struggled with it in the initial years. We believe that Christopher Nolan’s film will explore these incidents from his teenage years and college days until the Second World War breaks out. Thereafter, Oppenheimer, being a Jew himself, would try to fight a war against fascism through his own means, which was to use the fission technique to build an A-bomb. 

As the trailer for Nolan’s film begins, we see Cillian Murphy (as Oppenheimer), about to test a bomb in a research facility in Los Alamos (the location in New Mexico where the first atomic bomb was tested). Throughout their stay at Los Alamos, the team of the Manhattan Project conducted numerous experiments until they were finally able to achieve success, which suggests that the one depicted at the beginning of the trailer is not a successful one. 

The failure to create an atomic bomb builds the urgency to create one as soon as possible. Both Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), the head of the Manhattan Project, look pretty stressed as they want to create the bomb before the Nazis can. As per the documentary, nuclear fission was discovered in Nazi Germany, which gave Hitler and his scientists a head start. However, what worried the American scientists and leaders further was the fact that they had no information about the Nazis’ progress in the creation of the bomb. In the trailer, Oppenheimer believes that the Nazis are 18 months ahead of them in the research. The thought only elevates the tension for him and his team. In the film, the question that terrifies everyone is: what if the Nazis build a nuclear bomb before the Americans? In real life, we cannot even fathom the doom that alternative would have brought upon the world.

The next scene in the trailer depicts the secret laboratory in Los Alamos. It was Oppenheimer who suggested the location to Leslie Groves because the project had to be conducted away from the public eye. Also, they needed a location devoid of people to test the bomb. However, the conflict here is that Groves came from a military background with little or no knowledge about the technicalities of the bomb. He was appointed by the American government to hire scientists for the project, but a person like him isn’t suited for such a selection. That is where Oppenheimer steps in. He was an expert at explaining things. Plus, as per the documentary, Oppenheimer was quite charming in his approach, and he was able to convince the prima donnas of the scientific community. What worked in his favor was that most of the scientists from Germany had left their country after the terror of fascism began. A lot of them ended up in America, where Oppenheimer convinced them to become a part of the Manhattan Project and fight against fascism through their knowledge and passion for science.

The trailer also reveals to us the two types of bomb designs that were experimented with in the research facility. The spherical bomb, where we see a dark blue ball in the center, is the implosion design. These were the finalized bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The solid blue ball in the center is made up of plutonium, which is surrounded by tons of explosives. When these explosives are triggered, they create a pressure on the Plutonium ball from all sides, thereby leading to a chain reaction and subsequent nuclear explosion. The second bomb design featured in the trailer is the gun assembly method. In the trailer, we see two scientists inside a camp putting a bullet-like structure inside the bomb-casing. In the gun assembly method, two pieces of Uranium are slammed together inside a container to create an explosive. This method didn’t work with Plutonium because the material melted down before it hit the barrel.

It is no secret that Oppenheimer makes the bomb, and we believe that the first part of the film is going to follow the struggle that the father of the atomic bomb will encounter on his path. Along with the professional setbacks, Oppenheimer will also face conflicts in his marriage with Katherine “Kitty” Puening (Emily Blunt), who was a biologist and botanist by profession.

As per the documentary, Oppenheimer had shifted to Los Alamos with his family to be near the laboratory. However, Kitty had no real job in the newly established colony and was reduced to the position of a mother and a housewife. She didn’t have the opportunity to have any professional growth, which created complexities in their married life. Along with it, Oppenheimer had a past relationship with a woman named Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh). He was in love with Jean, but they never got married. We believe that his relationship with Jean could be seen as a turning point in his life because she was a Communist party member. Oppenheimer’s links with her were used during a trial where it was suspected that he was a Soviet spy, and he was accused of leaking the details of the atomic bomb to the communists. It wasn’t true, but Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) used these fabricated accusations to defame Oppenheimer and strip him of his heroic deeds.

After the Second World War was over, Oppenheimer was trying to persuade the government and scientists to give up the arms race, which made him a security threat. Perhaps Lewis used Oppenheimer’s links with the communists to get rid of him so that they could successfully test the Hydrogen bomb, which was the next big thing. Yes, we can see Benny Safdie telling Cillian Murphy in the trailer about a bigger bomb. Safdie is playing the role of Edward Teller, who was a part of the Manhattan Project and was hugely inspired by Oppenheimer’s efforts. He wanted to create a bigger bomb; a goal he achieved with the Hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, didn’t feel that the world needed it, which is why he actively opposed it and tried to delay its research by 18 months.

A majority of the film will probably deal with Oppenheimer’s inner conflicts, dilemmas, and controversial statements. We believe he was a completely different man before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts. But witnessing so many deaths and knowing that he was the reason behind them changed him. He found himself guilty of killing innocent people. He tried to advocate the control of these bombs and oppose the creation of nuclear weapons, but it was far too late. The world had already seen the power of such weapons, and from there on, there was no stopping human greed for more. Nolan’s film is going to follow these plot points and cinematically showcase them on-screen to portray the complex life of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Whatever the end result, we know that there will be a lot to ponder after watching the movie.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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