‘Oppenheimer’ Is the Origin Story. These Three Movies Reveal Our Nuclear Present.

By W.J. Hennigan

Produced by Phoebe Lett

The national security writer W. J. Hennigan has spent many years ringing the alarm about the world’s new nuclear era — the subject of At The Brink, a new series from New York Times Opinion — and the crisis on the horizon. For anyone whose interest was piqued by the origin story of nuclear weapons in “Oppenheimer,” Mr. Hennigan, who happens to be a movie buff, recommends three essential films that illuminate our new nuclear era.

An edited transcript of the above audio essay by Mr. Hennigan follows:

W.J. Hennigan: For many years, people haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about nuclear weapons, but that’s changed — both because of the war in Ukraine as well as the popularity of the recent Christopher Nolan film “Oppenheimer.”

The idea that a biopic about a scientist and nuclear weapons would be so popular, the fact that it’s won so many awards and has sparked such an interest, is really quite surprising.

For the past quarter-century, an entire generation has come of age without really having to worry about the bomb. This has not something that’s been front of mind.

Nuclear weapons were the predominant national security concern for our country for a half-century, and that was reflected within culture and art. Throughout the Cold War, you could see the topic of nuclear weapons in movies, video games, television shows, cartoons, songs, comic books, board games. There were alcoholic drinks inspired by nuclear weapons.

That kind of changed on a dime after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, but even though the concern and awareness over the nuclear peril faded, the danger hasn’t gone away. We’ve entered a new nuclear era, but that’s not being publicly discussed in the way that it has in the past.

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