The Technocrats of Silicon Valley ‘Don’t Get’ Oppenheimer

Sam Altman and Elon Musk are among those unsatisfied with Christopher Nolan's light depiction of science in 'Oppenheimer'

Oppenheimer premiere
Christopher Nolan speaks on stage about his movie “Oppenheimer” during Universal Pictures and Focus Features presentation at CinemaCon 2023. VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster thriller Oppenheimer has received rave reviews from film critics and audiences alike since its release on Friday (July 21). But the biopic about WWII physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer has apparently failed to impress the science-minded tech leaders of Silicon Valley.

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“I was hoping that the Oppenheimer movie would inspire a generation of kids to be physicists but it really missed the mark on that,” OpenAI CEO Sam Altman tweeted on Saturday (July 22). Altman then drew reference to The Social Network, a 2010 film based on the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook, saying the movie successfully inspired many aspiring startup founders like himself.

“Indeed,” responded Elon Musk, unimpressed with Oppenheimer. Also on Saturday, the Tesla CEO tweeted an image depicting a viewer scrolling through TikTok while watching the movie in a theater captioned, “This Oppenheimer movie is way too long.”

Altman’s and Musk’s comments spurred mixed reactions online. The discussion was centered around whether Oppenheimer is more about the science behind the creation of atomic bombs or the moral and political conundrum facing the scientist tasked with it.

“I can honestly say that in no way, shape, or form did I think even one second that movie was intended to inspire kids to become physicists. [I don’t know] what Sam was thinking,” tweeted tech founder Ryan Wollner in response to Altman.

Walter Isaacman, author and Musk biographer, would like to see more science in the movie, too. “It would have been useful to include more of the science that they did,” he commented.

But that would be truly missing the point of the story, according to some viewers. “There’s a reason the Promethean myth begins the movie,” tweeted Pat Kane, a consultant based in the U.K., referring to the film’s opening scene. “Indeed, the whole thing can seem a caution against the ontological delirium that an obsession with physics induces.”

As for Nolan himself, the writer and director likely didn’t make the film with any intention whatsoever.

“When you talk about intention, I would resist the characterization perhaps because I don’t think films work well when they are overly didactic, when they are trying to send a very specific message,” Nolan told physicist Brian Cox in an interview for Esquire last week. “The interesting thing, the dramatic thing about stories is there’s no easy answers. You are asking troubling questions.”

“ChatGPT, please generate a plot for the Oppenheimer movie that Sam will enjoy,” a Twitter user commented under Atlman’s post on Saturday, taking a gibe at OpenAI’s popular text generator.

The Technocrats of Silicon Valley ‘Don’t Get’ Oppenheimer