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Why We Never See the Bombing in Oppenheimer

Why We Never See the Bombing in Oppenheimer

Analyzing the Dichotomy of Theory and Practice in Oppenheimer

For the last week, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer has dominated the internet with audience reactions to the film. From Oppenheimer’s incredible lack of CGI shots to the impeccable performances by the actors and the film’s moral messages and history, there is much for audiences to discuss. For the most part, viewers seem in awe of Oppenheimer, but some question and criticize that the film never takes the audience to see the bomb drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this article, we’ll discuss why it’s artistically and morally important that this film about the atomic bomb did not visually display this terrible, tragic historical moment. Let’s discuss the bombing in Oppenheimer.

Dramatic Irony and the Bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer relies heavily on the audience’s understanding of the history of this event. If one didn’t know the history, they would lose the resonance of much of the film. Because of the audience’s knowledge of the bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Christopher Nolan drenches almost every step Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) takes toward completing the atomic bomb in dramatic irony. The gripping piece of this film is that the audience already knows what’s coming. There is no question as to how it will end. This knowledge makes certain scenes terribly impactful. Simple scenes like scientists applauding when their atomic bomb test succeeds become repugnant. They’re difficult to watch, not because they’re gory or visually horrifying. It’s just a group of people clapping. But the audience knows that it’s a group of people applauding the impending inhumane slaughter of likely 200,000 people. After the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer gives a speech to an adoring crowd. After the event, he is even more horrified than the film’s audience at the savage applause. Now, he understands what happened and what he did without even having to see the physical horror itself. This scene puts Oppenheimer in the same position as the audience after we’ve already been there. He never saw this event occur, but he knows it happened, he knows what happened, and he understands the scale of the horror.

Why We Never See the Bombing in Oppenheimer

The Absence of War Visuals Shows Oppenheimer’s Theoretical Perspective

Robert Oppenheimer never saw the war. Oppenheimer never saw the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After he created the bombs, the military took them away, and he didn’t hear anything until the military had already inflicted the tragedy on the Japanese people. Throughout the film, the audience watches as this genius scientist completes this project, but even before that, we learn about his character and how it works. Early on, Nolan takes the audience back to Oppenheimer’s school days. He is useless in the lab, shattering beakers and entirely unable to focus properly. One of his scientific heroes, Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh) suggests that he get out of the lab and attend a school where he can work more closely with the theoretical side of things. Robert’s near murder of his professor overshadows these moments, but they give the audience important context for how he is able (morally) to create the atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer is best at the theoretical side of science and does not do well with the practical. So, when he is in the process of creating the atomic bomb, it’s no surprise that he can make the moral jump to create something that will kill so many people and cause so much suffering. Oppenheimer understands the theoretical reasons for creating the bomb. He creates it because, theoretically, if the United States did not create it, someone else would have and would have used it against them. He does not, however, really consider the practice of actually killing this mass quantity of people. Thus, because the film is from Oppenheimer’s theoretical point of view, it makes logical sense that the audience never sees the bombing (because Oppenheimer did not), and it gives the audience a better window into how Oppenheimer was able to morally justify creating the bomb by emphasizing his lack of practical knowledge in the matter.

The Lack of Bombing in Oppenheimer Creates Moral Questions for the Audience

Not only does the lack of the bombing in Oppenheimer give the audience a window into Robert’s morality, but it also raises moral questions that the audience can grapple with on their own. After seeing Oppenheimer, one exits the theater with a heavy, nagging feeling of a need to explore the history and morality further. Oppenheimer is a film that makes audience members want to think about its content and morals rather than the fantastic work of this group of artists. The fact that Oppenheimer does not show the bombing does not escape a single audience member, and the question everyone has when they leave is, “Why didn’t they show it?” Of course, one could answer this question with more technical responses. Maybe they didn’t want to use CGI, and the bombings were too hard to do without it. Maybe it was too expensive. But it’s impossible to satisfy oneself with these responses. Nolan’s film spurs moral and philosophical thinking in his audience, which, these days, is not always easy to do. He creates something that people want to dwell on and ask questions about. He creates a feeling of unease and discomfort about the inclusion of human lives as part of a mere theory, and he makes the audience wonder whether they would have created the bomb if they believed the same theoretical stakes as J. Robert Oppenheimer. The absence of the bombing in Oppenheimer puts the audience more firmly in Oppenheimer’s theoretical perspective, questioning whether he’s necessarily this awful villain who created the atomic bomb and inviting the audience to understand and explore Robert Oppenheimer’s views, thinking, and actions and wonder whether they would have done the same.

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is a must-see this summer. If you haven’t seen it or want to study it further, buy your tickets for Oppenheimer at a theater near you.

Why We Never See the Bombing in Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer (2023) Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Syd Sukalski
Syd Sukalski attends Sarah Lawrence College and studies television writing and production and fiction writing. Syd aspires to write novels that she will adapt into a television series. She recently finished a draft of her first novel and is hard at work on her second.