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In the film "Oppenheimer", there's a powerful scene following the Trinity atomic bomb test where the crowd's reaction is a mix of applause and tears.

I noticed that while some characters, including scientists and their wives, were crying, others were clapping and celebrating. This contrast in emotions is striking. Can someone explain the significance of this scene? What is the film trying to convey through these diverse reactions? Is it solely about the characters' personal feelings, or does it also reflect broader societal or historical contexts?

The difference in Oppenheimer's reactions is noteworthy in these scenes.

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    It's possible that individuals had multiple feelings themselves. This can be expressed as the major reaction to one feeling, or some weird reaction due to cognitive dissonance.
    – Steve
    Nov 27, 2023 at 17:29
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    That scene was the reaction after hearing the news that the bomb had been successfully dropped on Japan, not the Trinity test. As a side note, the actress playing the girl whose face is melting off is director Christopher Nolan's daughter. Nov 28, 2023 at 5:51
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    Might be tears of relief given the huge amount of work and uncertainty that went into the project, plus the stress and pressure, consequences of failure etc., I think it's just conveying that scientists are humans too and not machines.
    – Tom
    Nov 28, 2023 at 16:57
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    @SkippyleGrandGourou see at 3m37s in the clip. Nov 29, 2023 at 10:54
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    @SkippyleGrandGourou: No, it's a different scene, after bombing Japan, the first time nuclear weapons were intentionally used to kill humans. The question is asking about a scene after the Trinity test (which was just a test, done in the New Mexico.) Nov 30, 2023 at 5:27

4 Answers 4

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The most common immediate reactions to the explosion were surprise, joy, and relief. The Manhattan Project

People are different and so express their feelings in many different ways. That's what happened to the people who witnessed the Trinity Test. Because they lived differently the years before, they didn't react the same way when the experience took place.

In this excellent article, "How Oppenheimer weighed the odds of an atomic bomb test ending Earth", Mark Johnson writes:

The nightmarish idea was this: The tremendous fireball generated by the bomb is so great that it heats nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere to the point that their atomic cores, called nuclei, fuse. The energy released causes more nuclei to fuse, triggering a runaway reaction that sets the atmosphere ablaze.

And this is the way the world ends.

Except that it didn’t. And physicists knew it wouldn’t, long before the Trinity test.

But no matter what, they all had pressure. They had worked very hard and had great responsabilities. Physicists, soldiers, family, staff, all who knew about the bomb had different levels of knowledge and very different personalities. Not everyone feels and reacts the same way. Some feel joy, some feel relief, some feel fear... and they express their feelings just when it's done, in their own way. That's just what the movie is showing, almost quoting Oppenheimer's recollection of the events.

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I'm unsure if this is the "significance" you're after, but it's worth emphasizing that, according to Oppenheimer, this is how the crowd actually reacted to the Trinity test.

In the 1965 documentary "The Decision to Drop the Bomb", Oppenheimer described the moments after the bomb's explosion (emphasis mine):

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent.

So rather than trying to "reflect [some] broader societal or historical contexts", I believe the film was merely trying to portray the aftermath of the test (or at least, Oppenheimer's own recollection of it) as accurately as possible.

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    Similarly, the lead-up to the test depicts several real-life anecdotes that are part of the historical record: Fermi’s betting pool, Feynman behind the truck windshield, etc.
    – Kevin Troy
    Nov 27, 2023 at 5:16
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If you are asking about this very scene that you have in the question, my interpretation is not that it depicts mixed reaction of the crowd. What I see is unanimously cheerful reaction that brings Oppenheimer to the verge of moral disintegration, and this results in the visions he has, presumably none of which reflect real events - rather they seem to be manifestations of his conscience.

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    This is the right answer. The scene shows Oppenheimer coming to a realization of what has been unleashed and is having hallucinations of his colleagues and their families being affected by the bomb: the woman with the flayed skin, the cinder-corpse, the mourners, the man puking from presumably radiation sickness.
    – Stephen
    Nov 28, 2023 at 21:35
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    @Stephen and მამუკა ჯიბლაძე - I think the youtube video in the question isn't the scene they're asking about. Besides not having a mix of reactions, Oppenheimer is talking about a bomb dropped on Japan in that scene, killing humans. The Trinity test was in the New Mexico desert in the US. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(nuclear_test)). I have no idea why the OP would link a specific scene they weren't asking about, but they accepted an answer that doesn't make much sense for the youtube scene. But yes, this is answer and your comment match my interpretation of the youtube scene. Nov 29, 2023 at 9:42
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    +1. This is my interpretation too for the linked youtube scene. The crowds are all cheering Oppenheimer for having achieved an impossible scientific/technological feat but while giving the speech he realizes the true power of what he has done. Hence his visions of burned corpse, missing co-workers, radiation fallout and profusely crying lady mourning for someone who has died in a future atomic bombing somewhere.
    – RedBaron
    Nov 30, 2023 at 5:32
  • @PeterCordes That makes a ton of sense. Thanks
    – Stephen
    Nov 30, 2023 at 14:51
  • The answer is right for the clip that's been added in the edit of the question, not for the original question.
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 1, 2023 at 15:27
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A further subtlety is that among the folks crying, some would have been crying from the release of tension, some would have been crying for joy because they had spouses and relatives fighting in the Pacific who might now be out of danger, some would have been crying because of the deaths of thousands of innocents, and some would have been crying because of the implications for the future of humanity. Oppenheimer is in the last category.

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