OPPENHEIMER: SCIENCE AND CINEMA panel discussion at the U.S. Consulate
By Siddhant Konduskar,
student of Journalism Batch 2023-24 of Xavier Institute of Communications.
In an enlightening and intellectually stimulating discussion, experts from the realms of science and cinema converged to unravel the intricacies of the movie "Oppenheimer." The event, titled "Oppenheimer - Through the Lens of Scientific and Cinematic Depiction," was hosted at the Dosti House of The U.S. Consulate General, BKC, Mumbai, on Tuesday, October 10, at 2 pm. The discussion aimed to dissect the film from both scientific and artistic perspectives, offering the audiences their perspective on the depiction of art and science.
The panel featured two speakers, each bringing their unique insights to the table. A P Jayaraman, a renowned nuclear scientist, serves as the President of STEAM Academy and Chairman of the National Centre for Science Communicators. Along with him was Elizabeth Orlando, an economic and commercial affairs officer at the U.S. Consulate and a passionate film enthusiast. This dynamic duo brought diverse expertise that promised an all-round analysis of the movie.
The discussion was masterfully moderated by Prof. Daivata Patil, a multifaceted personality known for her roles as a researcher, film producer, academician, and feminist activist. Prof. Patil's expertise in both science and cinema made her an ideal choice to guide the conversation. Her role as a feminist activist added an additional layer to the discussion, exploring how women's contributions in science are often overlooked.
The central objective of the discussion was to critically analyse and critique "Oppenheimer" through a dual lens - scientific and cinematic. The audience eagerly waited to dissect the layers of this film that documented the life of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man responsible for the development of the atomic bomb during Second World War.
The audience included journalism students from the Xavier Institute of Communications, St. Xavier's College, journalism students from the University of Mumbai, science students from the University of Mumbai, and other film enthusiasts.
A P Jayaraman praised the film's use of black and white colour schemes, symbolizing the correspondence between scientists and the stark reality they faced. He said, "For Oppenheimer, averageness was attractive.” He continued to delve into the symbolism of the white horses and the poisoned apple in the movie. Alluding to biblical narratives, these symbols leave one to wonder if they foreshadow the gradual downfall and death of Dr. Oppenheimer or the destruction of humanity.
Elizabeth Orlando offered a unique perspective, focusing on Dr. Oppenheimer's personal journey as portrayed in the movie. She found the film's depiction of his mental health compelling. Elizabeth praised the film's seamless integration of science and history, artistically portrayed with an undertone of fear and suspense. She stated, "There was no better way to interest the audience in science."
The discussion shifted to the idea of feminism as Patil explored the often-overlooked contributions of female scientists. Orlando contended that women are frequently consigned to supporting roles in scientific films, while their significant contributions remain hidden. Jayaraman emphasized the case of Lise Meitner, an important lady behind nuclear fission, whose role in the Manhattan Project was conspicuously absent from the film. He quoted Nicholas D. Kristof's book, highlighting the glaring gender disparity in science. "Nicholas D. Kristof in his book says that half the sky belongs to women, but in reality, not even one fifth women are attributed in science," said Jayaraman.
As the curtains fell on the discussion, it became evident that the event had successfully bridged the worlds of science and cinema, leaving the audiences with much to explore further.