Right from the start I was totally engrossed in Oppenheimer and didn’t falter across the whole three hours. Perhaps because it was obvious early on that the protagonists considered themselves to be the ‘good guys’ in the world. And that if someone was going to bring this weapon of mass destruction into being then it had better be them. No doubt the ‘bad guys’, considered to be Nazis and Communists thought the same thing.
Part of what engaged me in the movie was the way it highlights the belief that every collective holds to some extent or another. The erroneous belief that we are right, and that others, whoever they are, must be wrong. That we are more capable of holding power and determining the way of the world than others are. That we have right on our side.
To be fair, this can arise from the fear that we will be overrun by powers greater than ourselves and that those powers want to do us harm. A fear that lurks within all of us. You could argue that it’s related to our survival instinct, chemically fueled by the sympathetic nervous system that drives us towards fight or flight.
At various stages of life, the tendency towards fight can be stronger than flight, especially when younger or believe we are more capable of getting the upper hand. Fight is often seen as more valuable, powerful, and sexier. Whereas flight, although useful to get us to safety, has been downplayed, minimised and seen as weak.
Watching Oppenheimer’s internal struggle about the ethics of his creation, executed exquisitely by Cillian Murphy, reminded me that flight can be seen differently. As a wise rather than weak option. Like a bird, an owl, rising and lifting away from whatever the conflict is. Enabling it to scan the territory and circumambulate the problem whilst floating between the tension of the opposites.
Flight is not a popular option because we’re so keen on fixing problems and getting rid of distress, especially when we can do that in groups that reinforce our sense of right. But group thinking is not always what matters most and, in some situations, can be destructive.
What can matter is to learn to be solitary like the owl. Not bowed down and in retreat but standing tall just as an owl does. Content within its own self. Alert, without needing to rush to arms. Instead, watching and waiting until a resolution that was previously unknown can rise.
Oppenheimer had to fly like that when he was sidelined, apparently because of his political connections but may also have related to him wanting the world to curb the use of atomic weapons. From his watching and waiting position he commented, ‘we know that as long as men are free to ask what they will, free to say what they think, free to think what they must, science will never regress and freedom itself will never be wholly lost’. May it be so.