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Film / Fat Man and Little Boy

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Oppenheimer: If you want to ask what's happening, ask this: Will it be big enough? Big enough to scare all of us and make us stop and think? Big enough to stop all war forever?
Schoenfield: Look, I've seen Oak Ridge, alright? That place wasn't built to make one or two bombs. It was built to make thousands of them. Thousands. And pretty soon everybody's gonna have a bomb! They will! What are they gonna do with them? Sit around and wait 'til they go off, until boom? And then we got ourselves one world full of Michael Merrimans' dying from the inside out. Is that what you're looking for? Because that's the future you've made for us! Hey Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer! You oughta stop playing God, 'cause you are not good at it, and the position is taken!

Fat Man and Little Boy is a 1989 historical drama film directed by Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields).

In the early days of American involvement in World War II, General Leslie Groves (Paul Newman), a U.S. Army engineer, finishes his assignment to build the Pentagon and hopes to go fight in the Pacific theater against the Japanese. Instead, he is given a project he doesn't want: spearheading the development of the atomic bomb. To wrangle the scientists, Groves hires Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz), a brilliant physicist and administrator who leans more than a little to the left. Groves and Oppenheimer set up a laboratory outside the remote town of Los Alamos, New Mexico and recruit physicists and engineers from all over the U.S. to work on their secret project. One such recruit is Michael Merriman (John Cusack), an idealistic young physics student who narrates much of the film through unsent letters to his father.

See also Oppenheimer.


  • Artistic License – History: The movie is fairly accurate for the most part, but it has its issues:
  • Being Watched: Why Merriman doesn't mail his letters to his father. Many of the physicists object to this, with Enrico Fermi pointing out to Groves that it was why he left Italy. Truth in Television.
  • Body Horror: Merriman after the accident with the Demon Core.
  • Butt-Monkey: Dr. Schoenfield (John C. McGinley) just can't catch a break.
  • Composite Character: Michael Merriman is a composite of two Los Alamos physicists, Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin. Both died because of massive accidental radiation exposure during experiments with the Demon Core, as Merriman does in the movie.
  • Foil: General Groves is a gruff, staunchly conservative Self-Made Man, while Oppenheimer is an amiable physics professor who occasionally hangs out with card-carrying Communists. They find that they need each other to make the atomic bomb project work.
  • Foreshadowing: Merriman doesn't hesitate to run into danger during an explosives accident early in the movie, prefiguring his accident with the Demon Core.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The Geiger counters ticking away in the background during the "tickling the dragon's tail" experiment and the experiment with the Demon Core.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lots, with Groves and Oppenheimer being the most obvious examples. Several historical physicists such as Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller show up as background characters.
  • Hospital Hottie: Kathleen Robinson, courtesy of being played by Laura Dern.
  • Market-Based Title: Released as Shadow Makers in several territories outside the US.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Both Groves and Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer opines early on that he'll have Groves eating out of his hand within a week, but if anything, Groves manipulates Oppenheimer more successfully than vice versa.
  • The Mistress: Jean Tatlock (Natasha Richardson) for Oppenheimer. It doesn't end well.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The "Demon Core". It lives up to its name when an accident leads to Merriman touching it for a single second and becoming fatally irradiated.
  • Nuke 'em: Groves and much of the military establishment take this position, even after V-E Day.
  • Oh, Crap!: Merriman's reaction when he realizes he looked away at the worst moment possible during the Demon Core experiment.
  • The Proud Elite: Oppenheimer has shades of this, especially early on; however, the military men seem to expect it from the physicists much more than the physicists actually act this way. See Tall Poppy Syndrome below.
  • Red Scare: Much of the conflict between Groves and Oppenheimer derives from suspicions about Oppenheimer's past associations with American Communist sympathizers. In Real Life, this eventually resulted in Oppenheimer losing his security clearance and position, as noted in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The fateful Trinity test was prologued by music from the "Nutcracker" by Tchaikovsky as a result of a ground station broadcast from elsewhere beyond the testing site. The cheery tunes from the 'Toy Flutes' piece contrasted the otherwise grim and serious atmosphere of the test, up until it was abruptly cut off by the detonation of the Trinity device.
  • Speed Demon: In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, while the scientists are tooling about in a convertible, it's Oppenhemier's wife who feels the need for speed.
    Male Scientist: Robert, must we go so fast?
    Kitty Oppenheimer: Yes! YES!
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: Groves' aide opines that Oppenheimer "has more brains than are decent".
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The movie ends with one of these after the success of the Trinity test.
  • You Are Already Dead: Merriman says this almost verbatim about himself after the accident with the Demon Core.