Oppenheimer ending explained

Chris Tilly
Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece, is one of the poignant movies of 2023 – here’s everything you need to know about its chilling ending.

The release of a Christopher Nolan movie is always an event. The director and sometime writer’s films frequently receive near-universal acclaim, with critics loving them, and audiences packing cinemas for weeks.

Oppenheimer has had additional drama, with the film going toe-to-toe with another eagerly anticipated summer blockbuster this week – Barbie.

Both films are out now, and both received 5-star reviews from this very outlet (you can read the Dexerto review here). So with Oppenheimer in cinemas, it’s time to dig into the movie’s emotional ending. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Oppenheimer ending explained

Oppenheimer is about lots of different things. On the surface, Nolan’s film concerns the creation of the atomic bomb, and the toll that took on director of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

But as we said in the Dexerto review of Oppenheimer, “Loyalty is a central theme of the movie; what it means to be loyal to your country, family, and friends, as well as how you react when that loyalty comes into question.”

That’s where the story goes after the bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Regretting his role in those catastrophes, Oppenheimer uses his reputation as “father of the atomic bomb” to try and influence policy, pushing for arms control rather than the manufacture of more bombs, something that doesn’t go down well in the corridors of power.

So a trap is set to remove Oppenheimer’s security clearance, ruining his reputation by questioning his loyalty to America. One that works, with his re-application for clearance being denied.

Solving Oppenheimer’s mysteries

The way the movie is structured means we don’t know who set the wheels in motion for J. Robert’s downfall for much of the movie. Meaning it’s quite the revelation when friend and confidant Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) is revealed as the man who took Oppenheimer down. Though Lewis soon gets his comeuppance, with the plot exposed, resulting in Strauss missing out on the Cabinet role he so covets.

The film then ends with the answer to a question that’s been hanging over the movie – what did Oppenheimer say to Albert Einstein during the exchange that Strauss couldn’t hear, but nevertheless so annoyed him. And turns out it had nothing to do with Lewis.

Instead, Einstein talks about how he was discarded by the science community, and warns that the same will happen to Oppenheimer. During this conversation, we flash-forward to Robert being given an award by the White House, having been discarded and disowned by the government, just as Einstein predicted.

They then briefly discuss Oppenheimer’s work with the bomb, with Robert stating his belief that the Manhattan Project started a chain reaction that will destroy the world. The film then ends with a look of horror on Oppenheimer’s face as he considers what he’s done, as images of the world’s expanding nuclear arsenal flash across the screen. Robert then closes his eyes, and the screen cuts to black.

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now, and you can find more coverage below:

Oppenheimer review | Ending explained | Epic runtime revealed | R-rating explained | Best way to watch Oppenheimer | Christopher Nolan on sex scenes | Cast and characters | Filming locations | True story explained | Is Oppenheimer streaming? | Nolan ranked by Rotten Tomato scores | Is it based on a book? | Age-gap controversy explained Robert Pattinson’s influence | How Oppenheimer died | Christopher Nolan explains strange script | Did Japan ban Oppenheimer? | Review roundup | Does Oppenheimer have a post-credits scene? | Box office | Was Jean Tatlock murdered? | What happened to Kitty? | Why did Lewis Strauss hate Oppenheimer? | Did Oppenheimer win a Nobel Prize? | Why you struggle to hear Nolan’s movies | Oppenheimer’s improvised line

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About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: chris.tilly@dexerto.com.