“Oppenheimer,” the hotly anticipated Christopher Nolan biopic about the Jewish nuclear physicist who developed the atomic bomb, will include another familiar Jewish face when it opens this summer:
A new trailer for the drama, released last week, includes a brief glimpse of the scientist’s unmistakable visage, as rendered by the Oscar-nominated Scottish character actor Tom Conti. Underscoring the gravity of the bomb’s development, this Einstein has foregone his usual cheery demeanor and is instead wearing a grave frown.
It seems appropriate for the film, which tracks J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) as he and the other members of the Manhattan Project race to develop the bomb by constructing the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico in the mid-1940s. Oppenheimer and his team of scientists tested the weapon there before it was eventually dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the waning days of World War II, killing more than 110,000 people.
As the legend goes, the scientist initially heralded the bomb’s successful test run by quoting from the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” He would eventually come to regret his creation, telling President Harry Truman he had blood on his hands.
Einstein’s role in the bomb’s development is often overstated, yet still notable. According to the American Museum of Natural History, when the physicist and Jewish refugee of Nazi Germany learned that German scientists had succeeded in splitting the uranium atom in 1938, he urged then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to speed up development of nuclear weapons in the United States. His fear was that the Nazis might develop the bomb first, in part building on his own scientific equations. Einstein was later barred from participating in the actual Manhattan Project as his left-leaning politics were enough to deem him a security risk.
As soon as the bomb was dropped on Japan, Einstein reportedly was devastated and came to regret even his small role in pushing Roosevelt to develop it.
Several other Jewish figures from the atomic age will make appearances in the historical drama, including onetime U.S. Atomic Energy Commission chair Lewis Strauss (played by Robert Downey Jr.), Manhattan Project physicist Richard Feynman (Jack Quaid), hydrogen bomb developer Edward Teller (Benny Safdie) and nuclear physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi (David Krumholtz).
“Oppenheimer” will open in theaters on July 21. Nolan, a filmmaker known for his grandiose style in blockbusters like “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” shot the entire film in large-format IMAX cameras to add to its epic scale. It will be his second WWII history, after 2017’s “Dunkirk.”