Power and Pitfalls of Knowledge in 'Oppenheimer’: A Movie Review

July 26, 2023

Contributor: Maroof Ahmed | Editor: Supriyono

The 2023 film 'Oppenheimer', directed by Christopher Nolan, provides a profound exploration of the theme of the power of knowledge. The movie, based on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist pivotal in developing the first nuclear weapons, offers a rich tapestry of insights into the transformative and destructive potential of knowledge.

The film's narrative underscores the double-edged nature of knowledge. On one hand, Oppenheimer's intellectual prowess and scientific knowledge lead to the creation of a weapon that ends World War II, arguably saving countless lives in the process. On the other hand, this same knowledge results in the creation of the most destructive weapon in human history, causing immense suffering and death.

"Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds," said J. Robert Oppenheimer (minute 22:36), quoting Hindu’s holy book Bhagavad Gita.

This quote, famously uttered by Oppenheimer upon the successful test of the atomic bomb, encapsulates the paradox of his achievement. The power of his knowledge has made him a 'destroyer of worlds', highlighting the potential for knowledge to be used for both creation and destruction.

The film also explores the psychological burden that comes with such powerful knowledge. Oppenheimer, portrayed by Cillian Murphy, is depicted as a man haunted by the implications of his work. His knowledge, once a source of pride and accomplishment, becomes a source of guilt and distress as he grapples with the destruction caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In an interview with The Guardian last year, Murphy discussed his role in the movie, expressing particular interest in exploring the profound impact inventing the atomic bomb has on individuals.

"I’m interested in the man and what [inventing the atomic bomb] does to the individual,” said the actor.

Oppenheimer's struggle with the moral and ethical implications of his work underscores the responsibility that comes with knowledge, particularly when it has the power to affect lives on a massive scale.

Moreover, the film delves into the political implications of knowledge. Oppenheimer's scientific achievements not only change the course of the war but also significantly shift global power dynamics, setting the stage for the Cold War. His knowledge becomes a political tool, used and manipulated by those in power for their own ends.

Gaurav Krishnan, a movie analyst from movieweb.com, highlights how the film explores the relationship between knowledge, power, and politics, showing that knowledge can be both a tool for progress and a source of manipulation.

"Science & technology are needed for the progression of humankind but science & technology cannot progress without government funding, and governments need scientific & technological breakthroughs to further political agendas," he said.

Krishnan’s statement illustrates the complex relationship between knowledge, power, and politics. It underscores the idea that knowledge, while a tool for progress, can also be weaponized and exploited.

'Oppenheimer' serves as a poignant reminder of the power and responsibility that come with knowledge. It invites us to reflect on the ethical implications of scientific advancement and the role of knowledge in shaping our world. As we continue to push the boundaries of what we know and can achieve, 'Oppenheimer' prompts us to consider the potential consequences of our pursuit of knowledge, reminding us that with great power comes great responsibility.