After about 16 minutes into the film Oppenheimer, there is the following exchange in one of the security clearance hearing scenes:

GRAY: Did you ever encounter Heisenberg again?

OPPENHEIMER: Not in person, no, but uh, you might say, our paths crossed."

It may be my imagination, but I see a faint, wistful(?) smile begin to appear, briefly as he remembers what this entailed.

Question: What does Oppenheimer mean here? What is the "paths-crossing" to which Oppenheimer refers?


1 Answer 1


They both attended University of Göttingen. Then, one worked for the Americans and the other for the Germans, working one against the other. Although they were separated by an ideology and an ocean, their minds intellectually were and met in the field of physics ("you might say, our paths crossed."). They were also both concerned by the consequences of their research.

He left Cambridge a year later to accept a position studying with Nobel Laureate Max Born at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Göttingen, Germany. At this renowned center of theoretical physics, Oppenheimer worked alongside luminaries such as Werner Heisenberg, Otto Hahn, Paul Dirac, John Von Neumann, and James Franck-some of whom he would work with again during the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project.

If Oppenheimer smiles, it's because their relationship was complicated, as they worked for opposing sides, but, as physicists, they respected each other.

Imagine a scene, a pair of bright young physicists, their minds alive with theories and equations. It is a dynamic almost Shakespearian in nature – a complex dance of ambition, rivalry, and a shared hunger for knowledge, a scene that calls to mind the stormy alliance between Prospero and Caliban in "The Tempest". The universe itself seems to pulsate with the promise of discovery, as two future giants of physics forge a bond amid chalk dust and the rustle of scribbled equations.

As the characters of Prospero and Caliban were ultimately driven apart by ambition, fear, and resentment, so too were Oppenheimer and Heisenberg. Yet their early connection in the quiet German university would echo throughout their lives, influencing not only their individual careers but also shaping the face of science and global politics. Did Oppenheimer know Heisenberg?

More to read: History - The Tense Relationship between Oppenheimer and Heisenberg

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    Thanks. I'm not sure their historical relationship is worth a question about a story like this movie. Maybe some biopic or movie involving the american-german competition would need deeper insight though... I dunno...
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 14, 2023 at 6:25
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    Since this film is based substantially on Bird & Shewin's 2006 book American Prometheus which "...won numerous awards, including the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography." I should probably just get a copy and read it first.
    – uhoh
    Dec 14, 2023 at 6:32
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    @uhoh - Maybe something to do with the word again? Dec 14, 2023 at 14:39
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    How certain are we about their locations at the time in question? Do we know anything about their velocity? Dec 15, 2023 at 1:14
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    @anongoodnurse - that would make sense, the film audience would interpret his comment based on what is depicted in the movie, so it works in the film, and if we assume that the film left out prior statements it works historically also. Another possibility is that some prior dialogue originally shot was cut in editing. Sort of like the "An Elvis man should love this" comment by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction which only made full sense in context of the earlier deleted scene where she asks John Travolta if he is an "Elvis man or a Beatles man". Dec 15, 2023 at 15:37

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