Who’s Who in ‘Oppenheimer’: A Guide to the Real People

The premise of Christopher Nolan’s biopic “Oppenheimer” is straightforward: it tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist known as “the father of the atomic bomb.” But like the director’s other films, its execution is anything but simple. The film leaps through time, presenting a dizzying array of scientists, politicians, and potential communist minions in the midst of a series of government hearings.

Here’s a guide to help you keep track of real-life characters and events in movies.

An American theoretical physicist (played by Cillian Murphy) spearheaded the development of the atomic bomb through the Manhattan Project.

Born in New York City in 1904, Oppenheimer spent his undergraduate years at Harvard University before moving to Cambridge, England, for postgraduate studies in physics. There, he reportedly gave a poisoned apple to a man named Patrick Brackett, frustrated by his tutor’s insistence that he focus on research rather than theory. The tutor never ate the apple, but the university authorities put him on probation. That said, this episode has been the subject of conflicting stories.

After earning a doctorate in physics from a German university, Oppenheimer accepted professorships at the University of California, Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology, contributing pioneering work to the American schools of theoretical physics.

With World War II in full swing, Oppenheimer was appointed director of Los Alamos as part of a larger effort to develop a bomb. He fell in love with New Mexico when he was sent there to recover from erythema as a boy, and he set up a secret laboratory in the desert of Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he worked with leading physicists and researchers. Coordinating the efforts of the engineers, it finally caused the first nuclear explosion. Alamogordo on July 16, 1945, known as the Trinity Test.

He then directed the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent theoretical research center in Princeton, New Jersey, and was chairman of the General Advisory Board of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Oppenheimer’s main antagonist in the film, Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and the leader of the movement to revoke Oppenheimer’s secrecy clearance.

Born in West Virginia, he held a variety of jobs as a travel shoe salesman, an investment bank partner, and during World War I as a bureaucrat in support of future President Herbert Hoover’s food administration. After World War II, President Harry S. Truman appointed Strauss to the Atomic Energy Department. He became the chairman of the committee and pushed forward the development of the hydrogen bomb. Strauss later served as Acting Secretary of Commerce under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but his nomination was rejected in the Senate, partly due to the outrage of the scientific community over his treatment of Oppenheimer.

An active member of the Bay Area’s Communist Party, Tatlock (Florence Pugh) was a graduate student at Stanford Medical School in 1936 when he began dating Oppenheimer. She helped introduce Oppenheimer to communist activists and stimulated his sympathy for the left. She ended her relationship with Oppenheimer in 1939, although Oppenheimer continued to visit her. The final meeting, held in June 1943, was supervised by FBI agents. In 1944, 29-year-old Tatlock was found dead in her bathroom. Most historians conclude that she died by suicide.

Born in Washington, DC in 1920, Boden (David Dastmalchian) graduated from Yale University and Yale Law School. He eventually worked as legislative secretary for Connecticut Senator Brien McMahon, and in 1949 became staff director of the Congressional Atomic Energy Joint Committee.

In 1953, perhaps at Strauss’ encouragement, he wrote to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, suggesting that “perhaps J. Robert Oppenheimer was a Soviet agent.” This led to closed-door hearings about Oppenheimer’s communist affiliation (depicted in the film) and ultimately the revocation of his confidentiality clearance.

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Lawrence (Josh Hartnett) was born in 1901 in South Dakota. He earned a doctorate in physics from Yale University, became a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and invented the cyclotron, the particle accelerator that helped develop the atomic bomb. It was Lawrence who introduced Oppenheimer to the Manhattan Project. After the war he advocated the development of hydrogen nuclear weapons.

Born in Budapest, Teller (Benny Safdie) earned a doctorate in physics in Germany, was offered a professorship at George Washington University, and became a naturalized American in 1941. Known for his work in nuclear energy, he joined Oppenheimer’s team at Los Alamos. There he directed the Department of Theoretical Physics.

Teller’s preoccupation with hydrogen energy and the development of the hydrogen bomb led to conflicts with other members of the Manhattan Project. After the Soviets tested atomic weapons in 1949, Teller became a major proponent of developing the hydrogen bomb to gain influence in the Cold War.

He later testified against Oppenheimer at a closed hearing, stating, “I would like to leave the vital interests of this country in the hands of those whom I can better understand and trust.” .

Yes, they were colleagues at the Institute for Advanced Study. “I’ve known Einstein for 20 or 30 years, but it was only in the last 10 years of his life that we were close colleagues and friends.” and Oppenheimer I have written Published in the 1966 New York Review of Books.

However, Nolan admitted that he invented a key scene between the two. At one point, Oppenheimer went to the taciturn Einstein for advice on the Los Alamos team’s calculations, which were shown that the Trinity Test could be contained and not explode. up the world.

“It wasn’t Einstein that Oppenheimer consulted on this matter,” Nolan said in a recent interview. “It was Arthur Compton who commanded the Manhattan Project outpost at the University of Chicago. But I transferred it to Einstein.”

The film revolves around two commission hearings. One was painted in color in 1954 and the other in black and white in 1959.

In the first, a four-week secret meeting, the Atomic Energy Commission deliberated on whether to revoke Oppenheimer’s secrecy clearance. Amidst fears of Soviet technological progress, Oppenheimer’s possible links to left-wing movements were under scrutiny, and Boden’s letter to Hoover was a turning point. When Chairman Strauss notified Oppenheimer of the suspension of his secrecy clearance, Oppenheimer refused to resign and demanded a hearing from the Commission’s Personnel and Safety Committee.

The hearing was one-sided from the start, with Oppenheimer’s lawyers barred from accessing classified material, while the commission’s attorneys had access to hundreds of taped recordings. Ultimately, the three-member board decided that Mr. Oppenheimer was a loyal citizen, but that his secrecy clearance should be revoked.

In 1959, the Senate held hearings on Strauss’s nomination for secretary of commerce, a process that was so heated that Time called it “the bloodiest battle in American history for confirmation of the presidential nomination.” The nomination was rejected by a vote of 49-46.

Even after he lost his secrecy clearance, Oppenheimer continued his education and research with the support of many in the scientific community who saw him as a martyr. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the Enrico His Fermi Prize for his lifetime achievements in energy science.

He retired from the Institute for Advanced Study in 1966 and died of pharyngeal cancer the following year.

In December 2022, just days after the “Oppenheimer” trailer was released, Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm reversed the 1954 decision to revoke Oppenheimer’s permit. She cited “flawed processes” that violate the Atomic Energy Commission’s own regulations.

“Further evidence has emerged of the prejudice and unfairness of the process that Dr. Oppenheimer was subjected to, while further evidence of his loyalty and patriotism has just been confirmed,” Granholm said. Stated.

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