The feature film Oppenheimer hit theaters in July, impacting audiences around the world. The biographical film about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist responsible for the atomic bomb, brings a raw view of war decisions and reflections on power.
In addition to the impeccable visuals — a hallmark of Christopher Nolan’s work — the film also has a sharp script and features striking phrases. If you are still reflecting on the film’s messages, check out a list below of 10 quotes from the feature film.
It is important to highlight that the relationship includes spoilers from Christopher Nolan’s film. So, continue the text if you have already seen the film, or continue at your own risk!
1. “Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this, he was chained to a rock and tortured for all eternity.”
The sentence that opens the film draws a parallel between Oppenheimer and Prometheus, a titan from Greek mythology punished for delivering the fire of the gods to men. This happened with the physicist when he revealed the secrets of atomic energy and gave humanity the power to destroy itself, being eternally punished by history — and his conscience.
2. “Awful, selfish people don’t know they are horrible, selfish people.”
Robert (Cillian Murphy) and Kitty (Emily Blunt) ask their friends. Haakon (Jefferson Hall) and Barbara Chevalier (Britt Kyle), for help to take care of their 2-month-old baby for a while. On occasion, Oppenheimer claims that he is a horrible and selfish person. Trying to console his friend, Chevalier replies that it’s not quite like that, as people with these characteristics are not capable of recognizing their defects and asking for help.
3. “Amateurs chase the Sun and get burned. Power stays in the shadows.”
The phrase is quoted at the film’s turning point when Lewis Strauss reveals himself to be behind Oppenheimer’s downfall. In a brilliant performance by Robert Downey Jr., the former military man claims to have worked in the shadows all these years, waiting for the best moment to strike. However, his blind vision for revenge was the reason for his downfall.
4. “They will not be afraid until they understand. And they won’t understand until they’ve used it.”
After the news of Hitler’s suicide, some scientists from the Manhattan Project tried to prevent the launch of the bomb, under the justification that, alone, Japan would not have the power to continue the war. With a naive view, however, Oppenheimer justifies that the bomb would be a type of necessary evil since the enemies did not know its power.
The point is that not even Oppenheimer himself knew about all the terrible consequences that the atomic bomb would bring to humanity — from the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the arms race.
5. “Do you think that by letting them tar and feather you, the world will forgive you? They will not go.”
In the third act of the film, when Kitty and Robert are cornered in the “trial” organized by Strauss, the biologist becomes irritated when her husband refuses to retaliate against the attacks. Upon realizing Oppenheimer’s attempt to be absolved through his martyrdom. Kitty reminds him that no amount of effort will ever be enough for the world to forgive him.
6. “You can’t sin and then ask all of us to feel sorry for you when there are consequences.”
Another standout moment for Emily Blunt’s performance is when the news of Jean Tatlock’s (Florence Pugh) suspicious suicide throws Oppenheimer off track. The film does not let Robert easily escape his mistakes, going through the character’s suffering with this striking phrase.
In addition to the protagonist’s irresponsible attitude toward Tatlock, the phrase resonates throughout the story. Questioning whether the physicist deserves empathy for his actions related to the development of the atomic bomb.
7. “Just remember, it won’t be for you… it will be for them.”
At the end of the film, in a dialogue with Albert Einstein (Tom Conti), the veteran scientist explains to Oppenheimer that his post-invention future will not be simple. In the full sentence, he says:
“When they have punished you enough. They will serve you salmon and potato salad, give you speeches, give you a medal, and pat you on the back that all is forgiven. Just remember, it won’t be for you…it will be for them.”
8. “It’s not a new weapon. It’s a new world.”
As soon as Niels Bhor (Kenneth Branagh) frees himself from Europe controlled by Hitler. He meets with Oppenheimer and offers some reflections on the impact of his creation. He says the world is not prepared for the power revealed by the atomic bomb which would outlast the Nazis forever.
Oppenheimer responds with another equally impactful phrase. Stating that one cannot lift a stone without being ready for the snake to be revealed referring to the consequences of its discovery. However, Bohr explains that it is not just a new weapon, but a new world.
9. “I believe we did it”
“When I came to you with these calculations. We thought we could start a chain reaction that would destroy the entire world… I believe we did it,” says Oppenheimer to Albert Einstein.
Although simple, the sentence that concludes the film is one of the most weighty. The revelation of atomic power set off a chain reaction that lasted decades and was responsible for the development of increasingly powerful weapons — taking the world down a dark path with no escape.
10. “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
The physicist’s most famous quote was officially aired 20 years after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the NBC News documentary “The Decision to Drop the Bomb” in 1965. In his testimony, Oppenheimer claims that the people on the project knew that the world would no longer be the same.
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