Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film, Oppenheimer, is a biographical depiction of the man who forever altered the course of history. The film is one of the biggest movies of 2023 and intends to portray the life of Julius Robert Oppenheimer — the Father of the Atomic bomb. But who exactly was the Oppenheimer of history? Let’s delve into the life of the man who was the harbinger of the atomic age.

Growing Up

Young J. Robert Oppenheimer with his father

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born in New York City on April 22, 1904. Born to an upper-middle-class family, Oppenheimer was set with high expectations to fulfill by his family. His father, Julius Seligmann Oppenheimer, was an executive in a textile trade company, Rothfeld, Stern and Company, allowing the young Robert Oppenheimer access to a world-class education. His mother, Ella Friedman Oppenheimer, was a painter who instilled in Oppenheimer a deep reverence for the arts and humanities.

At a very young age, Oppenheimer showed astute prowess in school regarding physics and mathematics. Oppenheimer attended the Ethical Culture School in 1911. The institution allowed Oppenheimer access to an array of teachers, private tutors, and accessible high-level classes that he would excel in.

Oppenheimer entered Harvard University in 1921.  But, at age eighteen, his health degraded severely. Oppenheimer, unable to carry out basic tasks for himself, had to return home to recuperate. It was during this reclusive time that the young Oppenheimer took up horse riding. This led to a deep appreciation for the outdoors and solitude.

After his gap year, Oppenheimer went back to Harvard University and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1925. Afterward, he went to Germany and earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Göttingen. He was awarded positions at the University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology. 

Manhattan Project

J. Robert Oppenheimer

As the United States entered the Second World War, word that the Nazi government was at the forefront of building an atomic bomb led President Roosevelt to create the Manhattan Project. Because of Oppenheimer’s impressive resume, in 1942, Roosevelt appointed him the director of the Manhattan Project. He led Site Y, the secret weapons testing and development facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico. At Site Y, a collective effort led by Oppenheimer successfully designed and constructed the world’s first atomic bomb. All of this culminated in the success of the Trinity Nuclear Test on July 16, 1945. 

Oppenheimer expressed immense excitement and pride at the successful test, but his demeanor eventually turned. Once the first and only atomic bombs ever used were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Oppenheimer understood the full capabilities of his creation. Oppenheimer came to abhor and renounce the apotheosis of his work, the culmination of his career. And it was this realization that led him to ironically, somberly quote the line of a god:

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

After WWII, Oppenheimer was appointed director of the Atomic Energy Commission; a position in which he would advise the United States on national security in regards to their newly formed nuclear weapons program. However, going against the interests of the United States government quickly cost him. In 1953, in a culture of Red Scare and McCarthyist propaganda, Oppenheimer was removed from his position as director of the AEC and placed under investigation by the federal government over his supposed communist beliefs. Although in 1954 the investigation concluded Oppenheimer to be a patriotic citizen of the United States of America, he was not allowed to work for the AEC afterward.

Humanist Era

J. Robert Oppenheimer giving speech

Oppenheimer no longer had an aptitude for teaching and decided to change routes once more. He started traveling around the world to present conferences and speeches on the growing concern of political demagogy around the sciences. This concern would be at the heart of Oppenheimer’s last moments on earth: evoking unity and togetherness, attempting to help instill a more objective, universal public consciousness on matters of science.

Oppenheimer passed away from throat cancer in the comfort of his home on February 18, 1967, at the age of 62. The legacy of Oppenheimer shouldn’t be remembered with inactive solemnity, as it usually is. It’s a legacy that warns us of the dangers of experts adhering to political commands and interests. Oppenheimer was a scientist who embodied the belief that science, in its very essence, is liberatory. The world, despite being filled with darkness and despair, can flourish from the ruins of even the most disastrous of situations.

Oppenheimer hits theatres on July 21st, 2023.

Strangely Awesome Games Staff
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