Like you, I did not expect to walk out of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and into the library with renewed inspiration to crunch my dissertation data. Like you, I couldn’t begin to justify such a feeling in the face of the actual results of the Manhattan project. Yet, while acknowledging the impossibility of putting aside the destruction wrought by the inventions at Los Alamos, those of us outside the business of weapons development have plenty to envy in J. Robert’s research setup.
How often do scientists find themselves with 2 billion dollars, a private ranch in New Mexico and unstoppable self-belief? Not to mention definitive knowledge of who exactly constitute the world’s best minds, and the ability to assemble them all in one place under their direction. Dr. Oppenheimer never had to question his work’s relevance or applicability; of all the things that kept the father of the atomic bomb up at night, lack of “real-world impact” was surely not one of them (restricting that impact to the “right” part of the real world was the central concern).