Luminous poster of the film Oppenheimer written and directed by Christopher Nolan. July 11, 2023 (via
The Profiteers of Armageddon

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you’re undoubtedly aware that award-winning director Christopher Nolan has released a new film about Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for leading the group of scientists who created that deadly weapon as part of America’s World War II-era Manhattan Project. The film has earned widespread attention, with large numbers of people participating in what’s already become known as “Barbieheimer” by seeing Greta Gerwig’s hit film Barbie and Nolan’s three-hour-long Oppenheimer on the same day.

Nolan’s film is a distinctive pop cultural phenomenon because it deals with the American use of nuclear weapons, a genuine rarity since ABC’s 1983 airing of The Day After about the consequences of nuclear war. (An earlier exception was Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, his satirical portrayal of the insanity of the Cold War nuclear arms race.

The film is based on American Prometheus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 biography of Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Nolan made it in part to break through the shield of antiseptic rhetoric, bloodless philosophizing, and public complacency that has allowed such world-ending weaponry to persist so long after Trinity, the first nuclear bomb test, was conducted in the New Mexico desert 78 years ago this month.

Nolan’s impetus was rooted in his early exposure to the nuclear disarmament movement in Europe. As he said recently:

“It’s something that’s been on my radar for a number of years. I was a teenager in the ‘80s, the early ‘80s in England. It was the peak of CND, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Greenham Common [protest]; the threat of nuclear war was when I was 12, 13, 14 — it was the biggest fear we all had. I think I first encountered Oppenheimer in… Sting’s song about the Russians that came out then and talks about Oppenheimer’s ‘deadly toys.’”

Read the full piece in TomDispatch.

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