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"They won't fear it until they understand it. And they won't understand it until they've used it."
J. Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer is a 2023 American historical biopic drama film directed and written by Christopher Nolan. The main source material Nolan used for it is the 2005 biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

The film is about the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the theoretical physicist credited with being the "father of the atomic bomb" for his leading role in the Manhattan Project, the secret American undertaking that raced against Nazi Germany's scientists to conceive, build and test the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

The story stretches from 1926 to 1963 and is told with two perspectives, which the movie switches between: "1. Fission", an in-color sequence showing the protagonist's own perspective of his life; and "2. Fusion", a black and white sequence which follows Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss and his interactions with (and personal opinions and actions against) Oppenheimer.

Nolan first pitched the project to Warner Bros. before major unrelated disagreements led him to part ways with them and have it produced by Universal instead. The film has a very large All-Star Cast, which is detailed in the folder below.


The film was released on July 21, 2023.

Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2, Opening Look.

Oppenheimer provides examples of:

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  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Oppenheimer's students and fellow faculty members at Berkeley, and later the entire scientific community at Los Alamos, call him "Oppie".
    • Oppenheimer calls Rabi "Izzy" as a sign of their close friendship.
  • All for Nothing:
    • Half of the reason Strauss ruins both his and Oppenheimer's careers is because Einstein ignored his greeting exactly once, which Strauss saw as Oppenheimer's doing, when their conversation probably wasn't even about him at all. Furthermore, in real life Oppenheimer would be politically rehabilitated by John F. Kennedy less than a decade later, making his machinations all the more pointless.
    • A major part of Oppenheimer's guilt over making the bomb is the fact that by the time it finally got made, the Germans (his intended target) had already surrendered, and even the Japanese were on the brink of defeat.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Invoked by Oppenheimer during his first meeting with Strauss. When Strauss corrects Oppenheimer on the Anglicanized pronunciation of his surname, Oppenheimer accuses him of trying to confuse Gentiles in order to fit in better with the WASP power structure. Strauss quickly dismisses this, citing that he is president of Temple El Emanu-el (a very famous Reform Judaism congregation located in New York). In real life, one of the reasons that Strauss disliked Oppenheimer was that Oppenheimer did not openly represent himself as Jewish like Strauss did.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Oppenheimer briefly imagines Jean's suicide from various moments. One of which shows a gloved set of hands thrust her head into the water. Was it really suicide? Or murder? Did the FBI silence her due to his involvement with the Manhattan project, or did Oppenheimer see himself as the murderer for turning his back on Jean when she needed him?
    • How much of Strauss' persecution of Oppenheimer was typical academia getting butthurt and petty (in this case, blaming him for a snub by Einstein and feeling insulted by Oppenheimer's joke about isotopes at a hearing) and how much of it was genuine hatred of the man's cowardice, hypocrisy, and the fact he was ultimately responsible for unleashing death and destruction on an untold scale while plunging the world into a Cold War? While Strauss' council and the hearing take the former position, the film points out that Oppenheimer was heavily criticised for his deeds, and in real life, Strauss was one of the few US politicians against the bombing of Japan.
  • Anachronic Order: As typical for a Christopher Nolan film, though slightly more traditional via the use of a Framing Device involving multiple hearings and closed-doors interrogations set in the '50s when Oppenheimer's security clearance was being reviewed. The film is largely linear outside of that, but many facts are presented in passing before shown in detail. The Deliberately Monochrome scenes largely center around Strauss and his team discussing their interactions with Oppenheimer and presented objectively (meaning the audience is to interpret what is seen and heard at face value) and largely take place after 1945, while the color scenes represent the films' subjective viewpoint (meaning the audience is to infer the layers of thoughts and emotions Oppenheimer is feeling) and is mostly chronological, though sometimes revisits scenes already viewed in black and white.
  • And Mission Control Rejoiced: The Los Alamos personnel cheer following the successful detonation of the Trinity test.
  • Apple for Teacher: Oppenheimer sees one of his classmates put an apple the desk of his professor, Patrick Blackett. Since he felt angry with Blackett, Oppenheimer decides to inject the apple with cyanide. However, he changes his mind and decides to dispose of the apple, narrowly avoiding poisoning Niels Bohr (whose lecture the previous day Oppenheimer couldn't go to, thanks to Blackett) when he grabs the apple.
  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Justified given the US government basically gave the Manhattan Project a blank check, so there was no question of how they funded four labs and built an entire town to centralize everything. Groves mentions at the end that it took three years and 2 billion dollars.
    • one of the most amazing things in real life is that even though tens of thousands of people were working on the project, only a few dozen knew what it was actually for.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Theory can only take you so far."
    • "Eat," first invoked by I.I. Rabi to Oppenheimer when he stops eating during his homesick tour of Europe and again later during the AEC Hearings.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: As Oppenheimer and Teller watch the bombs being packaged and sent off to the Pacific theatre. Robert says this is a great day for the Allies and perhaps an opportunity for peace for all mankind. Teller undercuts him immediately.
    Teller: Until someone builds a bigger bomb.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • President Truman delivers one to Oppenheimer after he insists that he has "blood on his hands." It's undeniably cold and unsympathetic, but Oppenheimer has no rebuttal.
      Truman: Do you think the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki give a shit who built the bomb?
    • After spending the entire movie fuming over an incident where Albert Einstein appears to give him the cold shoulder after a conversation with Oppenheimer, a senate aide gives a cutting one to Strauss:
      Senate Aide: know, sir, since nobody really knows what they [Oppenheimer and Einstein] said to each other that day, is it possible they didn't talk about you at all? Is it possible that they spoke about something, uh, more important?
    • Oppenheimer is completely unable to answer why he developed a principled objection to building a nuclear arsenal once they would be aimed at Russians rather than Germans.
    • Teller also asks Oppenheimer a piercing one that foreshadows Teller testifying against Oppenheimer in the security clearance hearing: "I do not know what you believe... do you?" Oppenheimer has no answer.
  • Artistic License – History: For the most part, Oppenheimer maintained a keen eye towards historical accuracy, with very few actual mistakes in portraying events as documented. Nevertheless, artistic license was still exercised for the sake of the narrative, either by adding small embellishments for dramatic effect, or compositing certain historical events to make the storytelling flow more efficiently and/or to avoid confusing audiences who may be unaware of the context.
    • An overarching fear by Oppenheimer, other scientists, and the military throughout the movie leading up to Trinity is that the bomb could ignite the atmosphere and end all life on Earth in nuclear fire. In actuality, by the time the Manhattan Project had been formed, Oppenheimer and his colleagues had safely calculated and concluded such a possibility was impossible and weren't fearful of that outcome, at least for their bomb (the Tsar Bomba created later by the Russians was a different story). In the film, they do say that they've calculated that there's a near zero chance of such a thing happening, but still have that tiny margin of error to add dramatic tension that wasn't there in real life.
    • The role of the Oppenheimer affair in Strauss' failure to be confirmed as Secretary of Commerce is greatly overstated by the film. In truth, most of the Democrats in the Senate had intended to block Strauss' appointment from the get-go just to screw with Dwight Eisenhower and make the Republicans look weak before the following year's presidential election. And while the Oppenheimer affair certainly didn't help, what really hurt Strauss was his falsely claiming that he had single-handedly persuaded then-President Harry S. Truman to pursue the development of the H-bomb, causing Truman to (indirectly) release documentation into the public domain that disproved Strauss' claims.
    • It seems that Strauss wants to not so much be Commerce Secretary for that specific job, but to be in the Cabinet and attend its meetings for its own sake. In real life, he'd already been doing so for some time. Strauss was appointed to the position on a temporary basis in late 1958 and thus attended meetings during the eight or so months he was there. His ego was still wounded from not being properly confirmed, but the idea that he was rejected from attending Cabinet at all isn't accurate.
    • It's also indicated that John F. Kennedy swapping his vote at the last minute played a major role in killing Strauss' chances of being confirmed by the Senate. It was actually two Republican senators breaking from their party to vote against it that proved fatal; had they voted along with the rest of the Republicans, Strauss would have been confirmed by a single vote.
    • The description of John F. Kennedy as "trying to make a name for himself", combined with Strauss not knowing who he was, implies that Kennedy was an obscure figure in 1959. In reality, JFK was a decorated war hero and Pulitzer Prize-winning author from one of America's most prominent families; by 1959, he had been in Congress for over a decade and came second in balloting for the 1956 Democratic vice presidential nomination. While he wasn't as iconic as he would later become, he was definitely well-known.
    • While it is true that Oppenheimer did early research on what would later come to be called "black holes", the term itself was not coined until the 1960s, long after the period of Oppenheimer's work on the topic depicted in the movie. It is nevertheless used in the script to avoid confusing the audience.
    • Oppenheimer's immediate guilt and self-loathing complete with nightmarish visions at Los Alamos upon the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is played up for dramatic effect in the film. In reality, his Manhattan Project colleagues remember him walking with a strut and taking to the stage to celebrate clasping his hands together "like a prize-winning boxer" (though the speech he utters in the film is accurate). Most historians agree it was likely seeing the photos of the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that truly triggered Oppenheimer's famous guilt over his actions.
    • The haunting scene between Einstein and Oppenheimer where the former believes they have started the chain reaction that will destroy the world is fabricated for the film. While they did greatly respect each other, Oppenheimer and Einstein weren't actually close friends nor did they have a protégé and mentor relationship like the film suggests they did.note  Oppenheimer did once discuss his fears about causing a chain reaction, but the person he talked to about it was Arthur Compton, the director of the Manhattan Project's outpost in the University of Chicago. Nolan admitted that he changed it to Einstein in the film because Einstein was more recognizable to the audience.
    • US Secretary of War Stimson recommending they do not bomb Kyoto due to the cultural significance and vacationing there with his wife — the latter is a persistent urban legend that in the film helps sell the cold-blooded horror of what the U.S. is planning. Stimson in reality actually lobbied to spare the city completely for respectful reasons, knowing how culturally significant it was to the Japanese and having visited the city several times as Governor of the Philippines (it would be the equivalent of destroying Vatican City and expecting the Catholics to surrender). There's no account of him honeymooning with his wife there, either.
    • By all accounts, Oppenheimer was not present at the meeting where Kyoto was excluded; according to Leslie Groves, the only people in the room were himself, Secretary Stimson, and General George Marshall.
    • Lawrence is shown to be at least cordial with Oppenheimer when he receives the Fermi Award at the White House. By the time this actually happened, Lawrence had been dead for several years.
    • While Truman was indeed irritated by Oppenheimer and his guilt, telling his Secretary of State Dean Acheson that he didn't want to see that "fucking cretin" in the Oval Office again, he was discreet enough to be civil in conversation with him, as opposed to the film where their conversation becomes strained and Truman calls him a crybaby within earshot.
  • As You Know: When Strauss reveals to Oppenheimer that Karl Fuchs was a spy at Los Alamos, Strauss over-explains that Fuchs was the British scientist hired by Oppenheimer, complete with a flashback cutaway, to remind the audience who Fuchs was.
  • Aspect Ratio Switch: As is typical for Nolan films of this time, portions of the film were shot on 1.43:1 IMAX film and 2.35:1 anamorphic film. For home and regular theatre viewing, the IMAX film was cropped to a 2.2:1 ratio, making the 2.35:1 sections of the film appear as if letterboxing was added to those shots in post. While all photography of the explosions was shot in IMAX, many shots from both the color and black-and-white sections were also shot in IMAX, seemingly without regard for the intensity (or lack thereof) of the scene and more because it just looked cooler to do so.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Touched upon where Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty have a lot of drama and personal flaws they are dealing with, including passing their infant son to a family friend for a time when Kitty is not emotionally able to take care of him, and several of his affairs are brought to light. Life at Los Alamos is also not necessarily the most comfortable. But there are a few moments of tenderness and support between them, which becomes more emphasized later in the film as they stay together until his death.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Oppenheimer with both Jean and Kitty in different ways. The fact Oppenheimer can't stop himself from coming to Jean when she needs him shows that she still had a piece of his heart he never let go. Then there is Kitty. While he is not always loyal to her, it is clear she is the person who can truly get through to him in his moments of despair and he has absolute faith and trust in her intelligence and strength. Their last scene together shows them walking away holding hands, implying they are going to work on their marriage.
  • Background Halo: The release posters for the film feature this effect as does the scene with Oppenheimer's speech to the crowd of Los Alamos personnel at the gymnasium after the bombings of Japan — the effect references Oppenheimer's quote of the Bhagavad Gita, as it is an unholy light.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Oppenheimer is rude to David Hill on both occasions where they interact. When Hill testifies before Congress, his opening remarks make it sound like he'll be one more person to side against Oppenheimer, but he instead criticizes Strauss for being vindictive against Oppenheimer.
  • Battered Bouquet: Oppenheimer's mistress Jean asks him to stop giving her flowers after their meeting at a party, and immediately bins them. It becomes part of their trysts; he gives her flowers, she chucks them, and they get down to business.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: One of the main lessons of the movie. Oppenheimer hoped that the atom bomb would be so terrifying that it would make war unthinkable. To his horror, American officials decide they want more bombs, beginning the nuclear arms race and the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction that leads to the decline of conventional war — but in the worst possible way.
  • Best Served Cold: When Oppenheimer objects that Strauss cannot possibly be that angry about Oppenheimer's testimony about the isotope export issue that he would engineer the security hearing, because it happened six years ago, Kitty points out that a truly vindictive personality has the patience of a saint.
  • Big Bad: Lewis Strauss schemes to ruin Oppenheimer's career after World War II over perceived slights, eventually becoming the most personal enemy to Oppenheimer himself.
  • Big Brother Instinct: One of Oppenheimer's most redeeming qualities is his unconditional love for his younger brother, Frank, whom he always advocates for.
  • Bittersweet Ending: With emphasis on the "bitter" part. World War II ends without the Axis getting the bomb or the Allies having to launch the extremely mutually costly invasion of Japan, but only after strategic bombing (including the atomic bombs) that kill hundreds of thousands of people, and the atomic weapons program has given birth to The Cold War with the USSR and the consequent nuclear arms race. Oppenheimer is eventually deemed to be a loyal citizen to the United States instead of a threat, thus vindicating his personal reputation; but in the interim and because of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the consequences that he was not aware his creation would have, he loses his security clearance and by extension his qualifications as an atomic energy expert, effectively ending his career with the United States government. His mistress killed herself and his relationship with his wife is also possibly strained as a result of the security hearing and interrogations over her ties to the Communist party of America, though the last scene of them together has them walking home with their hands intertwined, showing that their love remains strong.note  And most importantly, he is going to have to live with the fact that he created something that could, in the wrong hands, potentially destroy the world, and that more atrocities can, and will, happen as result of the atomic bomb. On the bright side, the role Strauss played in Oppenheimer's downfall is exposed in the middle of his confirmation hearing to the Cabinet, torpedoing his chances and leading to a rehabilitation of Oppenheimer's reputation. And as of this writing, the world has not yet been destroyed by nuclear power, even if it's because of the threat of Mutually-Assured Destruction.
  • Book Ends: The movie both starts and ends with Oppenheimer staring at rain falling on the ground; at the start of the movie he sees rain hitting puddles of water; at the end the rain is shown pattering out into the pond that lays before him and Einstein.
  • Bowdlerise: In India, an awkward CGI black dress has been added to Florence Pugh's nude scenes, as people were offended by Bhagavad Gita being quoted while the characters are having sex.
  • Bullying Teacher: Patrick Blackett to Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer hated him so much he attempted to poison him by injecting cyanide into an apple left on his desk by one of the other students.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: An anti-heroic example. Strauss' animosity towards Oppenheimer began when Oppenheimer gave a mocking answer to a question Strauss posed to him in a congressional hearing, a slight Oppenheimer forgot long ago.
  • Call-Back: Kitty criticizes Oppenheimer for shaking Teller's hand after the man testified against him. Many years later, Teller again shakes Oppenheimer's hand but receives only a Death Glare from Kitty.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: The characters are fully aware that what they are working on will change the world, and even if they get ahead of the Germans all the previous scientific breakthrough are available to the Russians even if the White House dismisses Russian resources to do so.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Emily Blunt once again plays the wife of a man who invents one of World War II's most infamous weapons.
    • Christopher Denham plays Klaus Fuchs in this film, after playing the fictional Jim Meeks in Manhattan. Both characters are eventually revealed to be spying for the Soviets.
    • Josh Hartnett's role as Ernest Lawrence, given the last time Hartnett was in a three-hour historical epic, it was "Pearl Harbor". He got to play a role in a film about the beginning of the war around twenty years later was in a film about the end of it. Ironically, the role Hartnett played in Pearl Harbor was supposed to be played by Matt Damon, but he was unavailable.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Of a sort. One may wonder why Rami Malek, a fairly recognizable (and Oscar-winning) actor, is in a minor, non-speaking role. Because he comes back at the end to tank Strauss' Cabinet confirmation, of course.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Inverted; it's the effective prosecution making absurd legal arguments. During the 1954 security clearance hearing, the prosecutors insist that because it's only a hearing and not a trial, hearsay is perfectly admissible evidence and the defense is not entitled to see the evidence. Oppenheimer's lawyer points out the insanity of him not being allowed to see the evidence because it's classified, even as the prosecution reads it into the hearing transcript.
  • Conversation Cut: When Oppenheimer pitches his idea of making Los Alamos the hub for the Manhattan Project, the conversation cuts from him and Groves in a classroom to them sitting on a train and finally to them standing in the desert while Oppenheimer keeps talking about his plans.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: While the Germans were already well ahead of nuclear weapons development by the time the Manhattan Project got underway, Oppenheimer says that Hitler's hatred of anything Jewish will hopefully sabotage their progress because of all the Jewish physicists being driven out. While Heisenberg is a brilliant man he's never given the resources or academic manpower to get the job done, and they later learn German scientists have fallen behind while going down the wrong path with heavy water.

  • Dawn of an Era: The "Atomic Age" is brought up after the Trinity test.
  • Death Glare: Kitty gives Teller a look that could peel paint when he tries to shake her hand at the Oval Office after Oppenheimer receives an award, years after Teller testifies against Oppenheimer. Rabi also gives a pretty scathing one to Lawrence when the other shows up to testify.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The movie is divided into two overlapping parts: the first, "Fission," is in color, and the second, "Fusion," is in black-and-white. Nolan has clarified that the black-and-white sequences are from an objective perspective, whereas the color sequences are all from Oppenheimer's subjective perspective, much like Memento. That said, the black-and-white sequences are not entirely free of Strauss' bias regarding Oppenheimer, mainly because he proves to be good at hiding it.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Unsurprisingly present in a film set eighty years ago.
    • Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project consider and dismiss the fact that Los Alamos is a Native American burial ground in a single sentence, though Oppenheimer asks Truman to give it back to the Native Americans after the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
    • Kitty is essentially forced by societal convention to become a housewife despite being an Ivy-educated biologist, and this in part causes her to become an alcoholic.
    • Similarly, the male scientists strongly object to Lilli Hornig being anywhere near the plutonium used because of how it could affect her uterus, with her shooting back that the male gonads are far more exposed than women's. She also only gets on the Project due to her husband joining and her becoming a typist, with recognition of her chemistry talents being recognized later on.
    • Kitty is utterly callous to how Jean's suicide affected Oppenheimer, pretty much doing everything but slapping him out of it, a reflection of the attitudes towards mental health of the era.
  • Demoted to Extra: The British contribution and delegation to the project are only really represented by Klaus Fuchs. The others are played by non-speaking extras.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Oppenheimer gets two. The first is following the successful test of the bomb. He implies to Teller that this will give the Allies the edge and bring peace to the world. Teller undercuts this by stating simply that someone will now attempt to build an even bigger bomb. The second is when discussing a super/hydrogen bomb, that it would be too big for any plane. William Borden then approaches him and notes the Nazis were experimenting with using rockets as a weapons delivery system, dispensing the need for a plane. Robert is shattered by that fact.note 
    • This happens with a large part of the scientists at Los Alamos. Judging by their reactions after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, very few of them actually considered the human implications of using it. Furthermore, that more bombs would be made and that it would become part of the military's arsenal. Many scientists, including eventually Oppenheimer himself, were utterly horrified at having created something that could potentially destroy the world. When they voiced these concerns, they were dismissed with essentially "Well, what did you think was going to happen next?"
    • Truman falls victim to this too. He is dismissive of Oppeneheimer's point that the Russians have enough scientists and resources to make their own bomb. Yet as much as Truman might dislike Oppenheimer personally, what motivation would Oppenheimer have to lie about that and would he not know what he was talking about? By the time the Cold War is underway, American experts are not so naive.
  • Dirty Communists: While they don't show up in-person, the perceived threat of the Soviet Union (ruled by Stalin during the film's events) to world peace is often referenced. Even when they and the Americans are allies, the main characters are suspicious of them and dread the possibility of them getting a nuclear weapon; this becomes relevant when Klaus Fuchs is revealed to have passed information along to the Soviets. The mere possibility that Oppenheimer sympathizes with (American) Communists during the Second Red Scare also gets the American government suspicious that he might be a traitor.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Oppenheimer gives testimony before Congress that mockingly torpedoes a proposal by Strauss to block the export of isotopes. In return, Strauss engineers the destruction of Oppenheimer's reputation and public influence (taking his life's work away from him, basically) through a cruel dredging up of every skeleton in Oppenheimer's closet.
  • Downer Ending: A few characters do not get happy endings in this movie thanks to the Red Scare. Haakon Chevalier abandons his wife and goes into exile, Frank Oppenheimer can no longer get work as a physicist and has to work as a laborer, and Lomanitz ends up working as a railroad maintenance worker.
  • Dramatic Irony: The first half of the film is about Oppenheimer and the US government on a race against time to develop an atomic bomb first before the Nazis do, citing how Heisenberg has an 18-month head start on nuclear development. While they do have reasons to fear based on the information they had, the audience know that the Nazis were never able to build an atomic bomb and were defeated before the Trinity test could even be conducted. In fact, in real life, Heisenberg wasn't even interested in building an atomic bomb and Hitler's rabid antisemitism practically stunted any nuclear research in Germany. This, along with the hindsight news that Japan was potentially on verge of surrendering even before Hiroshima, shaken Oppenheimer to the core as it meant he gave the world a world-destroying weapon that didn't need to be made in the first place.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jean Tatlock kills herself via barbiturates and alcohol after Oppenheimer says he can't see her again. Oppenheimer feels deeply guilty about this even though Kitty assures him it isn't his fault note .
  • Eagleland: Presented initially as Type One before slowly revealing itself as Type Two. When the Trinity test goes off without a hitch, Oppenheimer and his colleagues all celebrate this great achievement of American scientific and industrial prowess with cheers and unrestrained jubilation, an American flag prominently waving behind him as they hoist him up on their shoulders. The rest of the film is built around leavening the unrestrained joy of that moment with reminders of the dark places it led, for America and for the world. This is best shown in the Nightmare Sequence where Oppenheimer hallucinates a nuclear explosion in a room full of people waving American flags. By the end, the scariest forces in the film are no longer expansionist Axis powers, but ambitious, amoral bureaucrats taking the world to the brink by pushing for bigger and bigger bombs. To hammer it home, President Truman is initially shown in a heroic light before coldly shutting Oppenheimer's guilt and proceeding to be the catalyst for the Arms Race of the Cold War.
  • Easily Forgiven: Oppenheimer slaps Lawrence's back and shakes Teller's hand at the Fermi award ceremony, showing that he has forgiven them for nearly destroying his reputation. Kitty is not so gracious, giving Teller the mother of all death glares.
  • E = MC Hammer: We repeatedly see Oppenheimer scribble complex formulas on a blackboard which underpins his scientific abilities to the audience.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: When the young Oppenheimer spends some time in Cambridge (UK), the only exterior shot of the city is a view of Kings College chapel from across the river — a shot so commonplace that it might as well be stock. (It's the city's most recognizable building, from an angle that excludes any distractions or anachronisms.) There are also some establishing shots of fairly well-known university buildings at Berkeley and Princeton.
  • End of an Age: The film depicts the world before and after the creation of the nuclear bomb, forever altering the course of the human race.
  • Epic Movie: Only natural for Christopher Nolan. It's a 3-hour-long historical biopic with a truly staggering all-star cast, a budget of over 100 million dollars, and ambitious practical effects sequences that extend all the way to replicating a nuclear explosion without any CG. The full 70mm print of the film weighs 600 pounds and is 11 miles long. That said, the film leans less on spectacle than is normal for this trope, focusing more on moral questions and character drama.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Holding a grudge against Patrick Blackett, Oppenheimer injects an apple left by one of Blackett's students with potassium cyanide and puts it back on the table. In the next morning, he rushes back to the laboratory trying to undo his action, seemingly regretting it. Niels Bohr almost eats the apple, but thankfully he manages to throw it away.
    • Colonel (later General) Leslie Groves is introduced storming into Oppenheimer's lab like he already owns the place, throwing his jacket to his subordinate Nichols to get it dry-cleaned. It illustrates his brusque, no-nonsense personal manner.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Several of Oppenheimer's most trusted colleagues eventually betray him during his security clearance hearing, including Teller and Strauss. Especially Strauss, who orchestrated the whole thing. Lawrence almost does it after being told that Oppenheimer's long-time affair with mutual friend Richard Tolman's wife led to Tolman's death, but at the last moment backs out after seeing Oppenheimer in person, claiming to have suddenly come down with colitis.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Strauss spends his time acting like he's a bit out of his league with the Senate confirmations and not knowing who set up Oppenheimer for the FBI. It's when a Time magazine article uses the exact same wording of "Oppenheimer vs the U.S." that Strauss did that the Senate aide that has been advising him realizes Strauss was behind the whole thing.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: It's something of a Running Gag that every single brilliant theoretical physicist, from Einstein to Teller to Oppenheimer himself, either dislikes actual math equations, isn't that great at them, or both. Notably, when Teller's work suggests an atomic explosion might never stop, creating a self-sustaining criticality event that would eventually ignite the atmosphere and destroy all life on Earth, no one at Los Alamos can prove him wrong, forcing Oppenheimer to ride out to talk to Einstein, who also can't prove him wrong. It's only when the equations are sent to the math team in Chicago that they're reassured that Teller messed up the math and that the chances of atmospheric ignition are near zero. Near.
  • Fantasy Sequence: There are several instances of Oppenheimer imagining things, ranging from extraordinary physics related phenomenon like particles moving, electron spin, chemical reactions, explosions, gravitational attraction of a black hole to the somewhat morbidly ordinary like Jean Tatlock's ultimate fate, William Borden's account of witnessing a V2 rocket heading for Britain during the war, areas of effect of multiple detonations on a map, and trails of multiple rockets streaking between the clouds.
  • Fat and Skinny: Groves and Oppenheimer, respectively. Despite their differences, physical and personality-wise, they get along very well during the project.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: During the Committee's grueling questioning and accusing of Oppenheimer, he wonders aloud if anyone who was involved at Los Alamos is ever going to tell the truth. Cut to David L. Hill preparing to take the stand for Lewis Strauss's cabinet hearing.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Oppenheimer's main love interests are two married women and the daughter of a literature professor he works closely with in a Leftist organization who is at least a decade his junior. Also both husbands of the married women he chases are not only men he knows but colleagues he is on good terms with. It seems as with accolades like the Nobel Prize or recognition, Oppenheimer can't help but chase what seems off-limits.
  • Forced Perspective: Nolan recreated the first nuclear test by using a small-scale petrol bomb and then using this trick to make it seem larger.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • Numerous characters worry about whether or not the Trinity test could possibly destroy the world during the experiment. We as an audience, who are very much alive after the fact, know that Trinity will and did not wipe out the planet.
    • Several sequences highlight Oppenheimer's increasing anxiety and fear over the possible nuclear annihilation of the planet due to bureaucrats and soldiers seeing his weapons as 'just another bomb' and not the tools of making war unthinkably terrible to commit to. He would live to see the Cuban Missile Crisis, but not see the tense, mutually paranoid belief the other side will strike first, and therefore needing to be able to strike back, that kept the Cold War from turning into a nuclear exchange, until the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, that many audience members probably lived through themselves.
  • Foreshadowing: Strauss does seem to genuinely admire Oppenheimer when the two meet for the first time to discuss a prestigious job Strauss wants to offer the scientist. But even in that initial meeting, when Strauss is desperately trying to make a good impression on Oppenheimer, Strauss' prickly ego flares up a few times. He's insistent on correcting a very minor, almost imperceptible mispronunciation of his name, he's a little defensive of his family background and humble beginnings as a "lowly shoe salesman" (to which Strauss rebutted with "Just a shoe salesman"), and he seems offended when Oppenheimer doesn't immediately take the job. There's also his deeply put-out reaction when Einstein doesn't acknowledge him. These are all signs that this is a man who might respond poorly to any kind of public humiliation, and also can be seen as a downplayed Establishing Character Moment, subtly hinting his true colors later on.
  • Forgets to Eat:
    • Twice during the movie, Isidor Rabi has to forcibly offer the habitually anxious, chain-smoking, rail-thin Oppenheimer something to snack on, as it's clear he doesn't take time to eat enough. note 
    • Played for Laughs when it turns out that he forgot to put a kitchen into the new house at Los Alamos. Kitty is not pleased.
  • For Science!: Many of the scientists, including Oppenheimer himself, are at least partially motivated to build the atomic bomb out of curiosity or a desire to put their theories into practice, regardless of the consequences.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Arguably Oppenheimer (melancholic), Rabi (phlegmatic), Teller (choleric), and Lawrence (sanguine).
  • Freudian Trio: Jean (Id), Kitty (Superego), and Robert (Ego).
  • Gallows Humor: The fact that the Manhattan Project scientists take bets on whether, for instance, a chain reaction will set the entire Earth's atmosphere on fire is explicitly described as such by Oppenheimer.
  • The Ghost:
    • Due to the film's perspective being limited to Oppenheimer and Strauss, multiple historical figures end up being this. Specifically, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, J. Edgar Hoover, and Joseph McCarthy are all mentioned frequently without ever directly appearing.
    • When Strauss' nomination is denied, the aide says that one of the holdouts was "a junior senator from Massachusetts trying to make a name for himself." Specifically: John F. Kennedy.
  • Genre Deconstruction:
    • Of the "Great Man" biopic. While J. Robert Oppenheimer is depicted as an exceptionally smart individual whose work changed the world, the film goes out of its way to show that he's ultimately a pawn to US government throughout his time on the Manhattan Project. While he's given free rein to create the atomic bomb and put together the team to make his ideas a reality, the second it's completed and successfully tested, it's taken away from him. And when Oppenheimer spends the years after speaking out against the government's decision to move forward with the more powerful hydrogen bomb, thus ramping up tensions with the Soviet Union, the men in power that once gave him control over his work dig up his Communist ties to effectively blacklist him and keep control of their new military weapon out of his hands completely. And unlike most "Great Men" biopics, Oppenheimer's achievement is NOT shown to have changed the world for the better; on the contrary, his work could very well lead to the END of the world.
    • The same goes for Oppenheimer himself, who, despite his undeniable intelligence and exceptional ability to see the world in ways most other people can't, is also arrogant, socially awkward, impulsive, and a serial womanizer. In addition, his desire to understand all paths of life all at once leaves him unable to fully commit to any single ideal, as seen with him quickly disavowing his Communist ties just to work on the Manhattan Project. And after the war, when placed in a more tumultuous period of US politics, that inability to commit to any political ideal makes many of his former comrades turn against him, considering him to be an intellectual coward. It's left ambiguous whether his efforts to restrict the use of the atomic bomb come from sincere guilt; a desire to make a martyr out of himself out of self-pity; or worse, a desire for keeping the world's eyes on him as the father of the atom bomb without being overshadowed by the hydrogen bomb. Even Oppenheimer himself doesn't seem to fully understand his reasons.
    • The movie places plenty of emphasis on the collaborative nature of the Manhattan Project and of science in general. It never tries to make the case that Oppenheimer was the only one who could have led it to completion. As for how he ended up in that position, it is not a straightforward logical case of him being the best person for the job, but coincidence and subjective personal likings by those making the decision are shown to also play their parts.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Oppenheimer believed that the creation of the atom bomb would be devising a weapon so lethal and horrifying that it would create a permanent peace by stopping all future wars. He got what he wanted but not how he wanted it by virtue of unwittingly causing the nuclear arms race which in turn would lead to the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Oppenheimer gives a lecture in near-perfect Dutch to a Leiden class, much to the surprise of the American in attendance, Isidor Rabi.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: While Lewis Strauss is arguably the most personal enemy to Oppenheimer himself, Oppenheimer's motive to lead the Manhattan Project is so that the Americans can beat the Nazis in the nuclear arms race, the latter of which is heavily mentioned and stressed upon. As a matter of fact, the entire events of the movie would have never happened had the Nazis not pushed the Americans past their limit of creating the atomic bomb. In addition, Harry S. Truman ignores all of Oppenheimer's warnings, ejects him from the White House, and is framed in the film as the one who starts an incredibly hardline arms race of brinksmanship with the Soviets — and thus, the Cold War that Oppenheimer agonises over in the years that come.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer visits President Truman at the White House and ends up confessing he feels he has blood on his hands for making the bomb. Truman's response was complete No Sympathy: "They don't care who MADE the bomb, they only care about who DROPPED it. And that was ME." However cruel, the narration made it clear Oppenheimer learned his own hand-wringing was a waste of time and pivoted his newfound celebrity status to try and influence policy.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • A dense, rhythmic, ever-increasing stomping noise recurs throughout the movie without the viewer being shown what it is. In fact, most trailers for the movie included this noise, with the teaser playing it over the visuals of an explosion. It turns out to be the sound of an auditorium full of people stomping their feet for Oppenheimer after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which Oppenheimer associates with the fear and guilt of what he has unleashed.
    • There is a mechanical buzzing and dosimeter ticking as the soundtrack to the final assembly and positioning of the Gadget on the tower for the Trinity test.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade:
    • Mildly with Oppenheimer himself. He didn't have Cillian Murphy's famously delicate and androgynous features, but his lifelong gauntness gave him similarly prominent cheekbones that genetics alone didn't. He also did have quite startlingly blue eyes, but the various descriptions given by people who knew him in American Prometheus suggest they were much more gray-blue than Murphy's.
    • General Groves was chubby and plain-looking, but is portrayed by the handsome and much slimmer Matt Damon.
    • Niels Bohr was noticeably balding and generally not very good-looking in real life, a sharp contrast to Kenneth Branagh who, despite being the same age as Bohr's at the time, is far more classically handsome and distinguished-looking and has a full head of hair.
    • Kitty Oppenheimer was in reality a rather plain and frumpy-looking woman with disheveled hair in many of her portraits, while here she's played by a rather glammed-up Emily Blunt.
    • Ernest Lawrence wasn't bad-looking, but he wasn't as handsome as Josh Hartnett, having a rounder face compared to Hartnett's more chiseled features.
    • The real Colonel Boris Pash had a receding hairline, wore spectacles and had rather severe facial features, giving him an intimidating appearance. Here, he's played by the boyishly handsome Casey Affleck.
  • Historical Domain Character: Practically every character is a real historical figure, even relatively minor scientists and politicians. The only exceptions are the unnamed senate aide played by Alden Ehrenreich, and the Army Air Force officer in the target meeting (played by Jeremy John Wells) who is concerned about the effect the atomic detonation will have on a B-29. Given that he mentions he will be flying the plane dropping the bomb, the only conclusion is that he's meant to be Colonel Paul Tibbets, who commanded the Hiroshima mission.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • The film tones down Oppenheimer's casual cruelty to underlings he saw as less gifted than himself. He is portrayed as arrogant in the film but less vindictive than he was in real life. The film also doesn't depict Latino and Native American communities being uprooted at the Los Alamos site he selects, and the detail of him suggesting to Truman to give the land back to those people after Japan surrenders does not have historical evidence backing it.
    • Also with both Teller and Lawrence. Teller in the film is presented as testifying against Oppenheimer for reasons that are Nothing Personal and being reluctant to do so. Teller in real life was very open in his autobiography that he did have severe personal and political issues with Oppenheimer, though he never believed the man was a spy. He was also even more antagonistic towards other scientists and Oppenheimer himself after the war, though the two men did share mutual respect for the other as scientists. Nolan seems to have taken some Artistic License with Teller's motivations to contrast him with Strauss and to represent the views of other people who genuinely did have grievances with Oppenheimer not based in personal dislike. Lawrence's anti-Union rhetoric in the movie also partially stems from concern that Oppenheimer is risking his career by allowing talk of a Union, but in reality (and the film heavily implies), he was just anti-Union in general, and used it to treat his workers like crap, too: when Jewish Italian physicist Emilio Segrè was stuck in California working as Lawrence's research assistant due to Mussolini's racist laws making him stateless, the moment Lawrence found out he couldn't leave, he reduced his salary from $300 a month to $116 a month. See also Historical Relationship Overhaul below.
  • Historical Relationship Overhaul:
    • Though Oppenheimer and Teller clash in the film and yet share a mutual respect, as they did in real life, they are far less antagonistic after the war than the real Oppenheimer and Teller. The film portrays Teller's objections to Oppenheimer as being Nothing Personal and almost entirely ideological. Hans Bethe claims that Teller did have a personal grudge against Oppenheimer, starting with Oppenheimer appointing Bethe as head of the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project instead of Teller (Which is portrayed in the movie but not framed as the primary source of Teller's issues with Oppenheimer). On the other hand, Teller and Oppenheimer did start off fairly friendly with one another, while in the film Oppenheimer's weary "Hello, Edward" during Teller's first appearance in the movie makes it seem like Oppenheimer already dislikes Teller before the two of them work together at Los Alamos, when in reality that was not the case.
    • Oppenheimer's extremely complicated relationship with Lawrence is not explored in the film in depth. The two of them were best friends in real life for well over a decade, but that relationship soured due to a combination of deep political differences over nuclear weapons and the McCarthy era and a history of petty slights and personal conflict. During their friendship, they were nearly inseparable with Lawrence in particular always lauding Oppenheimer's character in public even as he criticized Oppenheimer's political activity to Oppenheimer alone in private, but as their relationship deteriorated, the two men knew each other well enough to know exactly how to twist the knife to hurt the other one. Though the two of them deeply cared about the other — with Lawrence deeply hurt by the end of their friendship and reluctant to testify against Oppenheimer and Oppenheimer grieving Lawrence's death — the two never quite recovered from their slow, painful fallout that culminated in Lawrence testifying against Oppenheimer during his security hearing. In the movie, Lawrence is unable to bring himself to testify against Oppenheimer at the last minute and they appear friendly with one another when Oppenheimer is awarded the Fermi Award. Additionally, in the film, Lawrence's grievance with Oppenheimer seems to be based in Oppenheimer's affair with their late colleague's wife. While Lawrence was indeed disgusted with Oppenheimer's womanizing ways in general, his actual reason for testifying against his former closest friend was based in Lawrence's support of increased nuclear armament and opposition to Oppenheimer's leftist political views (as well as possibly a certain sense of jealousy and resentment of Oppenheimer's influence and fame, depending on whose account you believe).note 
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • The film generally portrays Lewis Strauss as little more than a vindictive and egotistical jerk. While this is, by all accounts, an accurate portrayal of his personality note , in reality he had plenty of genuinely admirable traits: he did his best to get U.S. policy to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany (helped by the fact he was Jewish himself like Oppenheimer), and while Strauss did advocate for the H-Bomb post war, he was at the time one of the very few top politicians actually lobbying against nuking a Japanese city, suggesting they bomb an uninhabited island as a demonstration to Japan instead. This contrasts with Oppenheimer, who did support the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and only regretted it later.
    • Zig-zagged with President Harry Truman: the film portrays him as being totally callous about the human suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mocking Oppenheimer for his regrets over the bombings. It is true that Truman insisted that the bombings were necessary and that many historians have questioned his motivations for this viewpoint, but he was well aware of the terrible weight of this decision, going so far as to suggest that the atom bomb might be responsible for the biblical apocalypse, a stark contrast with the film's depiction of Truman, framed as having nastier ulterior philosophies and gleefully plunging the world into the Cold War arms race. With all that said, Truman's behavior towards Oppenheimer in the film is actually toned down from how the exchange went in real life — by all accounts, the real Truman was even less tolerant of Oppenheimer's angst, saying to Secretary of State Dean Acheson "Never bring that fucking cretin in here again. He did not drop the bomb. I did. That kind of weepiness makes me sick."
    • Note the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima was ultimately determined to be a practical decision. Military leaders decided that they had four options:
1.) drop it on an uninhabited island off the coast of Japan. 2.) Bring Japanese military leaders to a remote site and detonate it under the threat that it will be used if they do not surrender. 3.) Give advanced warning so a city can be evacuated and then drop it. 4.) Drop it on the city like they ended up doing.The first option was determined to be impractical since the message would not get to enough people and they feared it could cause a tsunami that would end up doing more damage. The second and third options were considered a bad idea since there was no guarantee the bomb was going to work again. In fact the gun barrel device, “Little Boy”, had not even been tested yet. So if they were trying to use it as an intimidation demonstration and it didn’t work it would’ve been extremely embarrassing and likely would have strengthened the Japanese resolve.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: According to Oppenheimer, their greatest asset in the race to build a bomb is, ironically, antisemitism itself. Because of their antisemitic laws, the Nazis have forced many of Europe's leading physicists to America. This Brain Drain greatly helps the Manhattan Project while hindering the Nazis' own efforts to build a similar device.
  • Humiliation Conga: Strauss gets it handed to him starting with when Hill testifies he arranged for Oppenheimer to be faced with the committee so his security clearance would be revoked, his angry rant about how Einstein and every scientist was out to get him because Oppenheimer told them to—which he didn't, getting word that three negative Senate votes resulted in his being rejected from the seat and now the end of his political career—which means Strauss now has to go out to the press and put a smile on his face about it like nothing's wrong too.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Each time there is a test detonation, Kistiakowsky sternly instructs everyone to keep their heads down, only to near-immediately peek over the edge so he can watch the explosion.

  • Iconic Attribute Adoption Moment: There is a noticeable focus on a briefcase Oppenheimer places on a table, from which he takes his signature porkpie hat and pipe. This is followed by a brief but meaningful shot of him walking through Los Alamos with his now Iconic Outfit, which becomes his main attire in the movie from this point onwards.
  • Iconic Item: Oppenheimer's porkpie hat and pipe are both prominently featured in a scene after Los Alamos is set up, as though reminding audiences that this is where the man stepped into legend. Also, young Richard Feynman is shown playing his famous bongos.
  • Ignored Expert: Teller is generally viewed as well ahead of the curve in terms of calculations and anticipating further developments, proposing the Hydrogen Bomb via fusion as they barely started on the Atomic Bomb via fission. He doesn't get along well with other scientists and is ready to quit the project, but Oppenheimer both recognizes the value of the H-Bomb (pointing out it would be the next step once they have a fission bomb) and promises him independence to work on his theories at Los Alamos separate from the immediate project.
  • Informed Judaism: Invoked and then zig-zagged. Isidor Isaac Rabi initially points out that he's much more in touch with his heritage, including a fluency in Yiddish, than Oppenheimer, the result of Oppenheimer's upper-class German-Jewish upbringing versus Rabi's lower-class Eastern-European Jewish childhood. Zig-zagged as the film goes on in that Oppenheimer keeps himself as much informed as he can of the terrible things happening in Germany, to the point that he's regularly funneling money to German Jews to help them escape the country. However, Oppenheimer also refers to his own Jewishness causally around other Jews, such as his first few lines with Strauss pointing out both are obviously Jewish regardless of how their last names are pronounced, quipping around with Rabi at one point while having a darker conversation about rising antisemitism in Europe, and acknowledging a fellow Jew as a "fellow traveler." There are other subtle references to antisemitism throughout the film, but a viewer would have to be aware of the full historical context to pick up on them.
  • Innocently Insensitive:
    • One reading of Oppenheimer's confrontation with Truman is that Oppenheimer's admission that he feels he has "blood on his hands" offends Truman because Oppenheimer essentially just accused Truman of having even more blood on his hands. Any remorse Oppenheimer expresses about the bomb implicitly attacks Truman as well. Oppenheimer does not have the social acumen to realize this and thus blows his one chance to talk to the most powerful man in the world. He can also be fairly callous towards women in particular, immediately assuming a female scientist at Los Alamos is a secretary (though he does amend his mistake upon learning her qualifications).
    • Right after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gen. Groves calls Oppenheimer to congratulate him, calling appointing Oppenheimer as director of the Manhattan Project as one of the best decisions Groves ever made. While this is probably the nicest thing Groves has ever said to Oppenheimer, the shock and growing horror on Oppenheimer's face shows that Groves unintentionally hit a nerve.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence:
    • In the midst of his gruesome hallucinations during the ceremony, Oppenheimer spots a couple making out under the bleachers. It's unclear whether this is a figment of his imagination too.
    • We first hear Oppenheimer quoting the iconic 'I am now become death, destroyer of worlds' passage while having sex with Jean Tatlock. Later, following the Trinity Test, rather than have Cillian Murphy recite the line again, the film instead re-plays the audio of Oppenheimer's encounter with Tatlock, complete with soft gasps and moans audible on the soundtrack.
  • Interrogation Flashback: The present-day timeline is in 1954, when Oppenheimer is taking part in a hearing that eventually leads to his security clearance being revoked. While we see this hearing play out, we get the flashbacks that take in everything from Oppenheimer's time at Cambridge through to the Manhattan Project and beyond.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Strauss conspires to have Oppenheimer lose his security clearance, and when Oppenheimer's counsel complains about the blatant bias of the proceedings, the judges shoot it down since this isn't a trial: "Not convicting, just denying." When it backfires on Strauss and he loses his chance at a Cabinet post because of it, he bitterly notes "Not convicting, just denying" after not being able to defend himself.
    • Similarly, when setting Oppenheimer up, Strauss notes that the beauty of the clearance hearing is that there's no burden of proof required, meaning they can insinuate all kinds of damaging things without requiring any evidence to support them. Later, when this has been evoked at Strauss's hearings, he blusters that there's no way that anyone can prove his involvement in the blatant sabotage of Oppenheimer's career, only to be informed that there's no need to... because there's no burden of proof required in these hearings.
  • Irony: When Oppenheimer consults Albert Einstein about Teller's theory that the detonation of an atomic device might potentially start an unstoppable chain reaction that would ignite the atmosphere, Einstein is quick to note a grimly comic irony: having left him in the past by expanding on his theories to introduce the concept of quantum physics, which hinges on uncertainty and probabilities and which Einstein has always rejected, when it looks like their ideas might conceivably result in the destruction of the planet they have come to him seeking some form of certainty.
  • It's All About Me:
    • A large part of Strauss' grudge towards Oppenheimer is that on the day they met, Einstein completely ignored Strauss after a conversation with Oppenheimer. Strauss is convinced that Oppenheimer turned Einstein against him as part of a grand ploy to eventually ruin Strauss' life. As the aide assigned to him bitterly notes near the end, maybe their conversation had nothing to do with him. It didn't.
    • Oppenheimer tends to fall into this category, having a tendency to focus more on how the consequences of his actions make him feel than how his actions affect other people. A good example of this is how he goes on the witness stand to essentially martyr himself to assuage his own guilt, despite the fact that his wife is publicly humiliated as well. Kitty calls him out for this, literally telling him that he does not get to sin and then expect everyone to feel as sorry for him as he does for himself when the consequences of his actions come back to haunt him.
  • It Will Never Catch On: President Truman is dismissive when Oppenheimer warns him that the Russians will surely build their own nuclear bomb, as they have their own scientists and enough resources to do it.
  • Jerkass:
    • While President Truman may have a point about how Oppenheimer's guilt is self-serving when he wasn't the one who ordered the bombing and was actually one of the voices pushing to drop it on a civilian target in the first place, his responding to Oppenheimer's worry that he has "blood on his hands" by waving a handkerchief in his face goes beyond the pale. He later calls Oppenheimer a "crybaby" for having the sheer, unrestrained gall... to be upset that he was partially responsible for over 100,000 lives being lost.note 
    • Patrick Blackett singles out Oppenheimer constantly, eliciting laughter from other physics students, and snidely tells him he's not deserving to go see Neils Bohr, with the implication he does it knowing Oppenheimer is isolated and homesick. Even after a Time Skip, he still thinks Oppenheimer is worthless.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: When the uranium atom is first split, Oppenheimer opines that it's likely every physicist who hears will see the potential for creating a bomb.
  • Kangaroo Court: The 1954 security hearing to review Oppenheimer's Q security clearance is explicitly referred as such in the movie, having been explicitly designed to destroy Oppenheimer's reputation and political influence while ensuring he cannot make himself into a martyr or mount any effective defense. Notably, Oppenheimer's "prosecutors" and the "jurors" all are given access to classified information while Oppenheimer's defense team is basically completely in the dark, all by design. Despite this, one of the "jurors" on the panel dissents from the other two in a show of faith in Oppenheimer, and ultimately Oppenheimer is deemed to be a loyal citizen of the United States, saving his personal reputation, though they still deny his security clearance on the grounds that he is no longer willing to work in the interests of furthering the atomic program.
  • Kick the Dog: Oppenheimer's belittling of Hill and his colleague was uncalled for. He also probably overshot his mockery of Strauss in the congressional hearing, even if Strauss' response was Disproportionate Retribution. The film toned down how cruel and dismissive the real Oppenheimer would be, even to his own college students, apparently believing this to be an effective teaching technique.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Lewis Strauss engineered the destruction of Oppenheimer's government career by using a hearing about Oppenheimer's security clearance to tarnish his reputation, while taking advantage of the fact that as a bureaucratic proceeding, it could be turned into a Kangaroo Court where he would not be allowed to mount an effective defense, as he is not technically being tried for anything; he is just being denied something. Years later, Strauss' own Senate confirmation hearing for the post of Secretary of Commerce, usually a rubberstamp proceeding, is turned into a Kangaroo Court where Strauss cannot mount an effective defense, as he is not being tried for anything and the Senate is not convicting him of anything.
    Strauss: You're right. They're not convicting, just denying.
  • Lensman Arms Race: The first part of the movie deals with the race between Germany and the Allies to develop the first atomic weapon, one that lasts several years and costs billions of dollars. This in turn triggers the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, one that Oppenheimer spends the rest of his life trying to stop or at least slow.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: After Isador Isaac Rabi voices a moral objection to the invention of nuclear weapons, Oppenheimer invokes this, saying that while he doesn't know if the American military can be trusted with such a devastating weapon, he knows that the Nazis definitely can't, and so it's less bad for the Americans to invent it first.
  • Martyr Without a Cause: A non-lethal example in Oppenheimer, who subjects himself to the security clearance hearing and actively undermines his own position at points against the advice of his lawyer. This, in spite of the fact that it's a closed-door hearing and won't do anything to inspire the public. Kitty implies that this is his way of enacting penance for making the bomb.
  • Metaphorically True: Early on in the film, there is a concern that the atomic bomb could start a reaction that simply doesn't stop, leading to the entire world being annihilated, a concern that Oppenheimer takes to Einstein for his opinion on it. At the end of the movie, we see the conversation between Oppenheimer and Einstein that left the latter so upset that he gave Strauss the cold shoulder: Oppenheimer tells him that with the chain reaction that is the global arms race towards building bigger and stronger bombs to be used against other nations, the atom bomb has very likely destroyed (or rather will destroy) the world. As a more optimistic interpretation, he might mean nothing will ever be the same.
  • Monochrome Casting: Due to a devotion to historical accuracy and focusing on lead scientists, politicians, and military officers in the USA from the 1920s to the early 1950s, almost every character of any importance to the plot is Caucasian. Rami Malek (of Egyptian descent) playing David Hill and Benji Safdie and David Dastmalchian (both part-Iranian) playing Edward Teller and William L. Borden, respectively, are the three notable exceptions, though their characters (being based on real life people) are clearly supposed to be white. The only other non-white actor with even a speaking role is Ronald August playing J. Ernest Wilkins Jr., who appears only briefly during Oppenheimer's visit to Chicago. His appearance and a few non-white extras at Los Alamos represent the many non-white scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: The title is just one word, that being the surname of the man it's a biopic of, "Oppenheimer".
  • Motif:
    • Rain droplets. The first shot of the film is of water rippling across the surface of a puddle in the rain. It appears alongside images of the subatomic world to represent Oppenheimer's preoccupation with the hidden world of physics. Later, Oppenheimer is haunted by the image of those same water ripples appearing on a map of the USSR, representing the devastation of all-out nuclear war and the chain reaction of political decisions that might end up destroying the world. The image recurs one last time at the end, when Oppenheimer bitterly says the bomb may have already started that chain reaction.
    • Chain reactions. Ironically, in spite of being a nuclear physicist, who naturally knows a great deal about literal chain reactions, a recurring motif in the film is that Oppenheimer fails to anticipate the metaphorical chain reactions set off by his actions. He starts and maintains associations with communist party members without regard to how that might impact his future career in the US government, and he builds the atomic bomb to defeat the Axis without really considering the knock-on effects beyond that, like the subsequent arms race between the United States and Soviet Union.
  • Moving the Goalposts: When General Groves is brought in as a character witness to Oppenheimer, he is asked if Oppenheimer would have been cleared for the Manhattan Project under the new security clearance guidelines. Groves has great personal respect for Oppenheimer, but truthfully admits he would not pass the current standards. But Groves is quick to add that none of the scientists would have passed (both referencing the fairly liberal nature of most academics and implying that the postwar Red Scare was designed to harm them).
  • Must Have Nicotine: Oppenheimer is pretty much always depicted smoking a cigarette or his pipe. This is pretty accurate to real life, as the real Oppenheimer was known to be a heavy chain smoker for most of his life, and had on occasion been observed to have smoked up to 100 cigarettes a day. His habit is also widely believed to be the main cause of the throat cancer that would eventually claim his life at the age of 62, only compounded by him inhaling irradiated dust during the Trinity detonation.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Einstein counsels Oppenheimer against this kind of thinking. He notes that he abandoned his homeland forever and says that if Oppenheimer's beliefs run contrary to his country, he should tell them to go to hell.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Could very well be the subtitle of the movie.
    • Oppenheimer poisons his tutor's apple after being reprimanded and embarrassed in a lab. After a nightmare about his actions, he rushes to the lab to grab the apple before it's too late, narrowly saving Niels Bohr's life.
    • During the Trinity test scene itself, just as the fireball evaporates, Oppenheimer quotes the Bhagavad Gita as he famously did in real life: "now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds."
    • In a speech he gives to a basketball court following the Hiroshima bombing, he tries to congratulate the pilot of the Enola Gay. But as he gives said speech, the brightness of the bomb, and the sight of a woman in the audience's flesh being melted off haunt him. Later, when he visits Truman following Nagasaki, he straight up tells him that "(he feels that he has) blood on (his) hands."
    • Oppenheimer hoped that the atomic bomb would be a weapon so terrible it would make war unimaginable. He is horrified to discover that the politicians and military he gave said bomb to now want even bigger bombs.
    • In a non-Oppenheimer example, Lawrence turns on his former colleague and agrees to testify against him but has a crisis of conscience after seeing Isidor and a broken Oppenheimer outside of the hearing room. He ultimately begs off, claiming colitis.note 
  • Mythical Motifs: Bohr compares Oppenheimer to Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity; Prometheus' myth is also summarized in the film's opening card. Both kickstarted new ages for mankind and like Prometheus, he was also tortured for his transgressions. However, for Prometheus, the torment inflicted was physical, for Oppenheimer, it was much more internal.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • As a Mythical Motif, the film opens with a short written narration of Prometheus' myth, and Bohr calls Oppenheimer the "American Prometheus". American Prometheus is the title of the biographical book out of Oppenheimer, published in 2005 and upon which the movie is mainly based.
    • After having sex with Jean for the first time, she tells Oppenheimer to read (in Sanskrit) the passage of the Bhagavad Gita that he famously quoted in real life: "Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds". He later repeats the famous quote after witnessing the detonation of the bomb during the Trinity test.
    • Edward Teller's idea of protection during the Trinity test is a thick pair of sunglasses and an even thicker coat of sunscreen on his face. He sits outside in a folding chair, facing the blast, which he watches with wild-eyed glee in contrast to everyone else's mixed awe and dread. The combined effect makes him look unsettlingly comedic and more than a little like a dark-haired version of Dr. Strangelove — a character that he was the chief inspiration for, along with Werhner von Braun.

  • New Old West: Oppenheimer based his research facility in New Mexico because he owned a ranch there and loved the local environment, stating that his life would be perfect if he somehow found a way to combine his two passions, physics and New Mexico. When Kitty first arrives at Los Alamos, she compares it to an old Western town (a fair comparison, especially with all the horses there) and says that all it needs is a saloon. This little Western town is, of course, the place where Oppenheimer and his team would build and test the first atomic bomb, an invention that, perhaps more than any other innovation in the 20th century, marked as firm a dividing line as there ever was between the "old world" and modernity.
  • Nightmare Sequence: A particularly terrifying one happens after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oppenheimer gives a speech to a crowded gymnasium to celebrate but then is slowly overcome with visions of the devastation his creation wrought. He stops hearing the room, only an isolated scream, and starts envisioning the skin sloughing off a woman and the entire crowd disappearing in a cloud of ash.
  • No-Sell: The Senate Aide gives Strauss an utterly unimpressed one after his climactic Villainous Breakdown rant.
    Strauss: Oppenheimer knows how to manipulate his own. At Los Alamos, he preyed on the naïveté of scientists who thought they get a say in how we use their work. They’ll never think he was that naive himself. Oppenheimer wanted to own the atomic bomb. He wanted to be the man who moved the earth. He talks about putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle - well, I’m here to tell you that I know J Robert Oppenheimer, and if he could do it all over, he’d do it all the same. You know that he's never once said he regrets Hiroshima?! He’d do it all over! Why? Because it made him the most important man who ever was all part of his plan. He wanted the glorious, insincere guilt of the self-important to wear like a fucking crown, and say, “No, we cannot go down this road,” even as he knew we’d have to... J. Robert Oppenheimer, the martyr. I gave him exactly what he wanted. To be remembered for Trinity. Not Hiroshima, not Nagasaki! He should be thanking me.
    Senate Aide: ...well, he's not.
  • No Sympathy:
    • Upon finding Oppenheimer hiding away to wallow in his guilt after hearing of Jean Tatlock's suicide (which he believes is due to their breakup), his wife calls him out on it ("You don't get to commit sin and then ask all of us to feel sorry for you when there are consequences") and bluntly tells him to pull himself together.
    • When Oppenheimer says that he has blood on his hands, Truman sarcastically offers him a hankie and tells him no one gives a shit who built the bomb; they care more about who ordered it to be used.
    • The Senate Aide, disgusted after learning how Strauss orchestrated Oppenheimer's career downfall, is visibly fed-up and derisively amused when Strauss undergoes his Villainous Breakdown over Dr. Hill's testimony, and rebuffs his paranoid insistences that Oppenheimer turned the scientific community against him.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: The ending reveals that the conversation between Oppenheimer and Einstein which forms the crux of many of the events in the movie was actually, in part, about this. Einstein recalls to Oppenheimer an award ceremony he hosted for Einstein years ago, remarking that — since many of those present believed Einstein to be unable to come to terms with the concepts of quantum physics that they had expanded his theory of relativity to explore — it was actually more self-congratulatory in nature than they may have wished to acknowledge. He then notes that, given the similarly world-breaking scale of Oppenheimer's achievement, it's now his turn to be gradually left in the past as others build on and surpass his work.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: After the war ends, Oppenheimer expresses his belief that Los Alamos should be returned to the Indians. Groves responds that the facility will instead be expanded. This is when Oppenheimer truly starts to understand that there is no going back to the pre-atomic age.
  • Once More, with Clarity: A conversation between Oppenheimer and Einstein is initially observed from the sidelines by Strauss, who bitterly notes that Einstein refused to even look at him afterwards and concludes that Oppenheimer is turning scientists against him. Near the end, when the conversation is shown from Oppenheimer's perspective, it's shown that they were actually discussing the impact of Oppenheimer's research and its ramifications for mankind's future.
  • Open Secret:
    • Groves doesn't even have to tell Oppenheimer what the Manhattan Project is, and Oppenheimer states that every physicist in the world likely knows what it is.
    • As the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that In-Universe everyone involved in the 1954 security hearing was perfectly aware of the fact that Strauss was the one behind the whole thing. Only the Senate Aides shepherding Strauss' confirmation and the audience are in the dark about it.
    • The US Government already knew all the sketchy aspects of Oppenheimer's life and character that were used against him in the 1954 hearing and still put him in charge of the Manhattan Project despite them (or according to Oppenheimer, because of them).
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Cillian Murphy's natural Irish accent never quite goes away, particularly in the hearing scene where he discusses the export of isotopes.
  • Painting the Medium: Scenes shown from Oppenheimer's perspective are filmed in color. Scenes shown from Strauss' perspective are shown in black and white.
  • Parental Abandonment: Oppenheimer and Kitty were apparently not well-equipped to be parents the first time around, to the extent that Oppenheimer literally gave his first-born son Peter to Chevalier for a while. We do later see Peter back with his parents, while Kitty is pregnant with her second child, but the Oppenheimers don't exactly seem like loving and affectionate parents.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Despite being a strict teacher, Oppenheimer can be encouraging to his students — gently reassuring one that "you're going to be fine" in his class and encouraging another's mathematics with a self-depreciating joke at his own expense. He is also surprisingly empathetic to Teller when the latter wants to leave Los Alamos, despite not liking the man; he sounds genuinely apologetic when he can't. Also, despite being an absent parent who dropped his infant son off at the Chevaliers' rather than deal with an infant alone, he is clearly relieved and delighted to see his son again, especially in contrast to Kitty.
    • Oppenheimer is also fairly understanding of a fellow Jewish leftist graduate student hesitant to join the Manhattan Project, asking Groves if he can speak to this "fellow traveler" alone. Admitting to being a "fellow traveler" was risky in this antisemitic, anti-communist time, so Oppenheimer was taking a risk relating to the student.
    • It is not pointed out, but while Oppenheimer is known as a strict teacher, he is not a bigot and accepts women and students of all races into his classes. At one point, he gets annoyed at Lawrence for not supporting desegregation as passionately as Robert thinks he should. He also pretty quickly accepts Lilli Hornig into the Manhattan Project, despite initially mistaking her for a secretary. He may be a chauvinist towards the women he dates and is far from an ideal husband or boyfriend, but when it comes to science, he cares more about results than the identity of the scientist. That being said, he is still very much a Politically Incorrect Hero despite arguably being comparatively open-minded for a white man at his time.
    • On the other side, while it might be cold comfort after the bruising and at time defamatory experience he went through and the end result, the panel investigating Oppenheimer during his clearance hearing does openly acknowledge that there is ultimately no evidence that Oppenheimer is anything other than a loyal citizen of the United States.
  • The Power of the Sun:
    • In a radio speech, Truman declares that "the force from which the Sun draws its power has been loosed." He's a little off the mark, as stars like the Sun don't use fission like the bombs, but fusion — fission is the opposite. Fusion bombs would be developed a few years later.
    • Oppenheimer recruits some scientists by describing the project as unleashing "the strong force", and in that fundamental sense Truman is right even though these are opposite kinds of nuclear reactions.
  • Precision F-Strike: Kitty Oppenheimer gets the most effective F-Bomb when she curses Robert out during the security hearing: "You shook his FUCKING hand?!"
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Happens quite significantly at the climax of the security clearance hearing as Roger Robb grills Oppenheimer about his shifting stance on nuclear weaponry. As Oppenheimer's visible panic and hallucinations of the bombings mount, Robb's pounding of the table to emphasize his words become amplified to sound like explosions.
    Robb: And the GAC report, which 'you' co-authored, following the Soviet atomic test said! That a Super bomb should. Never. Be. Built!
  • Quit Your Whining: Kitty tells her guilt-ridden husband to stop feeling sorry for himself for being the indirect cause of his mistress's suicide and urges him to pull himself together for the sake of all the other people who depend on him.
  • Race Against the Clock: Happens twice during the film.
    • The first time is a race against the Nazis, to build and deploy the atomic bomb before they can, in order to end the war before the Nazis have a choice to deploy their own bomb. Hitler's death and the surrender of Germany essentially renders this race All for Nothing, but Oppenheimer convinces the others to continue anyways, for the sake of ending the war in the Pacific Theater in lieu of a costly invasion.
    • The second time happens as the work at Los Alamos nears completion, and Groves tells Oppenheimer that the bomb needs to be tested before President Truman meets with the Russians at Potsdam. The test is conducted only hours before the conference begins.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: David Hill delivers a brutal one to Strauss, accusing him of destroying Oppenheimer out of pure pettiness. The fact that it's on the stand at his confirmation hearing is the cherry on top.
  • Red Scare: The movie covers Oppenheimer's academic interest in communism in the 1930s and how it lands him in political trouble in the 1950s. Part of Oppenheimer's problems both before and especially after (and to an extent during) the Manhattan Project is that fact that his brother, his brother's wife, his mistress, and several of his friends were active Party members and his wife was a former member, while the US government viewed all communists as Dirty Commies. Oppenheimer himself is intellectually interested in Communism and passionate about causes that had him working with Communists (such as trying to start a union of the faculty at Cal Tech and raising money to support Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War), but doesn't consider himself Communist, instead preferring to say he is a "New Deal Democrat", and also not being a fan of communism as a dogma.
  • Resolved Noodle Incident: Two over the course of the film, which are eventually explained: the Chevalier incident (Oppenheimer's friend Haakon Chevalier informed him about a Communist party contact who had offered to act as a conduit to pass information to Russia, which ultimately ruined both Oppenheimer's and Chevalier's careers) and the Jean Tatlock incident (Oppenheimer's girlfriend, closely involved with the Communist party, who committed suicide a year before the Trinity test).
  • Safely Secluded Science Center: Los Alamos, the laboratory where Oppenheimer and his team worked on the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer specifies that everyone working on the bomb must remain at Los Alamos until their work is done. Edward Teller, who has doubts about the project, tries to walk out, only to lament that security, naturally, won't let him leave; Oppenheimer then says "I won't let you leave."
  • Scienceville: A whole town is built from scratch in Los Alamos to house and accomodate the many scientists working on the Manhattan Project and their families since no-one will be able to get out until the project bears fruits to avoid leaks.
  • Signature Headgear: Oppenheimer is seen quite a few times with his porkpie hat on.
  • Signature Instrument: Richard Feynman (played by Jack Quaid) is identified by surname once only in the movie note  but he can always be picked out by the bongo drums he has with him.
  • Smoky Voice: Oppenheimer is rarely seen without a cigarette or his pipe and his voice is noticeably hoarse during one of his speeches towards the end of the film. Justified, considering the fact that Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967.
  • Snowball Lie: Oppenheimer's attempt to cover up for Chevalier in his conversation with Pash involves making up a number of possible informants to protect his friend. He tries to stick to the story later but contradicts himself under questioning and is caught lying due to his phone being bugged by the FBI, essentially damaging what little credibility he had. (When the real Oppenheimer was asked why he lied, his verbatim response was: "Because I was an idiot").
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Oppenheimer gets plenty with General Grove over the course of the film, usually relating to Oppenheimer's Bunny-Ears Lawyer status and his refusal to bend on his principles.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Considering the size of the cast (there are dozens of named characters, and many of the smaller roles end up having quite an impact on the plot) this is only natural.
    • Jean Tatlock is only in the movie for five or ten minutes, but Oppenheimer's association with her is key to the denial of his security clearance.
    • Albert Einstein has only three scenes total, one of them very short, but his relationship with Oppenheimer forms one of the thematic cores of the movie.
    • Hill, a character who would have faded completely into the background were it not for the fact that he was played by Rami Malek, shows up at the end to completely torpedo Strauss' Cabinet nomination.
    • Klaus Fuchs, a diligent member of the British delegation who gladly takes on any responsibility and gets involved with many different functions. He is revealed to be have been a Soviet spy.
    • Kenneth Bainbridge (played by Josh Peck) is seen in a few group shots earlier in the film but not named on screen. He does get a few lines of dialogue as he was the one in charge of the Trinity Test, and gets the dramatic moment of pushing the Big Red Button.
    • George C. Eltenton appears briefly, greeting Oppenheimer at an FAECT meeting, mentioning he's unionising the chemists at Shell. He is the alleged Communist contact that ends up sinking Chevalier's career and, later, Oppenheimer's, after the latter unsuccessfully tries to cover for the former (see Snowball Lie above).
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Christopher Nolan's previous work Interstellar. The former film told an optimistic story in which technology saves humanity and cynicism about technology and progress was portrayed as a deeply misguided ideology. On the contrary, Oppenheimer is a film in which technology causes untold human suffering, gets corrupted by ugly politics, and ultimately becomes an existential threat to humanity. The titular protagonist's initial optimism about the power of science and technology is brutally deconstructed.
  • Stress Vomit: As Oppenheimer leaves the auditorium after his speech and hallucinations, Oppenheimer notices one of his fellow scientists puking outside. However, considering the hallucinations he was having earlier in the scene, Oppenheimer might be hallucinating one of the scientists puking due to the effects of radiation.
  • Sudden Soundtrack Stop: After a few minutes of tense buildup, the film goes completely silent as the "Gadget" goes off, and the subsequent roiling explosion is observed muted. This underscores both the devastating destruction it causes and the massive implications it could have not only on the war effort, but on future society. It's then followed by a shockwave, then jubilant cheers as the Los Alamos team realizes they were successful.
  • Take Our Word for It: Shortly after the bombings, Oppenheimer and several of the other workers at Los Alamos are shown a presentation of images of the effects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film doesn't show us these images, focusing instead on the horrified reactions of the characters as they realize what their work was used for.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Early on, Oppenheimer tries to outright murder Patrick Blackett upon feeling offended by him, by injecting cyanide in his apple. Just as Niels Bohr is about to take a bite in it, Oppenheimer snatches the apple Just in Time and throws it in a garbage can, reminding him about not eating food that’s been left out in a chemistry lab.
  • These Hands Have Killed: While meeting with Truman, Oppenheimer admits he feels like he has blood on his hands after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman mockingly offers him a handkerchief and states that he, as president, ordered the dropping of the bombs himself, and that their victims don't care who made the bomb.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: What the discussion that caused Einstein to look dismissively at Strauss is suggested to be about. They talk about the possibility of the bomb causing world destruction during a successful test, and they soon come to realize that the world might end anyway due to the machinations of those wishing to control the bomb as a weapon of war even if the test doesn't destroy the world.
  • Tick Tock Terror: There's an ominous ticking sound, representing the countdown to the launching of the nuclear bomb, that recurs in the movie. The sound of stomping feet also recurs at key, stressful moments of Oppenheimer's life.
  • Took a Level in Cynic: Not that Oppenheimer was ever exactly the most upbeat and cheerful person, but he was once naive enough to believe the invention of the atom bomb would make war "unthinkable" and stop wars. He very quickly learns to his horror that this is not the case and that the nuclear arms race has just begun, making the invention of a bomb dropped on an enemy that (as he sees it) had already tried to surrender and were essentially defeatednote  absolutely useless. No wonder he seems so drained and defeated in several of the black-and-white scenes discussing the hydrogen bomb and that he doesn't try to defend himself to his full extent in his hearing.
  • Unknown Character: The single Naval officer in the target meeting is probably meant to be Captain William Parsons, an ordnance expert and Oppenheimer's second in command at Los Alamos.
  • Unknown Rival: Oppenheimer appears to have no idea that Strauss was the one who engineered his downfall, nor is it likely he even remembers the testimony that soured Strauss's opinion of him. Later scenes indicate he is aware the entire thing is a setup, but he still goes through with it anyway.
  • Unobtanium: The expense and difficulty of producing weapons-grade uranium and plutonium is discussed. Before the Trinity test they mention that if the Gadget doesn't work, they will irretrievably scatter several kilograms of precious plutonium across the desert.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Strauss loses his cool when David Hill's testimony at the Senate ruins his chances of becoming Secretary of Commerce. He throws furniture to the ground and raises his voice in a way he never did before in the movie all while cursing out Oppenheimer—whom he has been secretly antagonizing for a long time. Similarly to most villains in fiction, this moment comes after his meticulously crafted plans are ruined.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: After Oppenheimer's speech following the bombing, one scientist is seen vomiting. It isn't clear if the scientist is stress-vomiting, had a bit too much to drink, or was just a figment of Oppenheimer's ongoing vision.
  • Warts and All: And how! Oppenheimer's insufferable genius aspects are presented, along with his serial womanizing, coupled with his growing discomfort at his own legacy for the creation of the Atomic Bomb, though this too is heavily debated within the film as to how justified it is.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Strauss and Oppenheimer worked together on the Atomic Energy Commission and were seemingly good colleagues, but they had fundamental differences on the H-bomb; Strauss never forgave Oppenheimer for a hearing where he decimated an isotope project Strauss was working on, which inspired Strauss to engineer him losing his security clearance. It also happens with Oppenheimer's relationships with both Lawrence and Teller, though in the latter case, Oppenheimer and Teller are presented in the film as occasionally begrudging allies and colleagues more than friends. During the meetings with various people from the Manhattan Project, Teller admits to having changed his opinion of Oppenheimer over the years, citing some of Oppenheimer's questionable behaviors and providing one of the more damnable statements from the scientists' side of things. They professionally shake hands afterward, but Kitty is outraged that Oppenheimer would be that gracious. Lawrence is also initially reluctant to testify against Oppenheimer but changes his mind after learning of Oppenheimer's affair with the wife of a late colleague of theirs who had previously vouched for Oppenheimer's character to Groves, though Lawrence ends up changing his mind again after seeing a broken Oppenheimer in the hallway on the way to his testimonynote .
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Nolan has acknowledged that a large part of the framing of the story is an homage to Amadeus, with Oppenheimer as Mozart and Lewis Strauss as Salieri.
  • You Need to Get Laid: When Jean hears about Robert's attempt to poison his lecturer, she says that might have been his problem. He answers that no one else had summarized his problem so simply.

Oppenheimer: When I came to you with those calculations, we thought we might start a chain reaction that might destroy the entire world.
Einstein: I remember it well. What of it?
Oppenheimer: I believe we did.