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A Uni Watch Look at Oppenheimer

I saw Oppenheimer last night (and it was Member Appreciation Night at my theater, so I got a half-price ticket plus a free popcorn and soda, whoop-whoop!). As you’ve probably heard, it’s really good — recommended. As you may also have heard, it contains a serious design goof. In a scene where Oppenheimer gives a speech to the Manhattan Project staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory after the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Japan (shown above), many of the employees wave small American flags. Just one problem: Those flags in the movie have 50 stars, which is historically inaccurate, because the scene is set in 1945, when America still had 48 states. Alaska and Hawaii were not added to the union until 1959.

But there are lots of other American flags — full-size, not hand-held — that appear in Oppenheimer. Do they also have 50 stars? From what I can tell after scouring the internet for still photos from the movie, the full-size flags appear to have the proper 48 stars. Here are some examples:

So they went to the trouble of getting the larger flags right, which makes it all the more surprising that they got the hand-held flags wrong!

A few other things from the film:

  • As you can see in that last photo, Oppenheimer wore a “K-6” badge during his time at Los Alamos. That was his official employee ID number. He wore it throughout his time at Los Alamos, both in real life and in the movie — usually on his jacket lapel but sometimes on his belt. Other people working on the project wore similar badges:
  • At a few points there’s a glimpse of a yellow stop sign. Why? Because stop signs didn’t become red until 1954:
  • There’s a scene in which Oppenheimer meets with President Truman at the White House, shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although I couldn’t find a photo of this scene (anyone..?), I was stunned to see that Truman, played by Gary Oldman, is depicted wearing a bow tie in the Oval Office. I always thought of Truman as a man who wore a conventional necktie, but it turns out that he did indeed wear a bow tie at the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945, a few months before he met with Oppenheimer. I had no idea Harry went that route with his neckwear! But he was, after all, a haberdasher,
  • There are lots and lots of military uniforms in the movie. I’m not qualified to say whether they were all accurate, period-appropriate, and so on, but I’m assuming they were. The main military figure in the film is Gen. Leslie Groves, played by Matt Damon. Here are some shots of him in uniform:


I think that’s it for my observations. Did anyone else notice anything Uni Watch-worthy in the movie?


Comments (26)

    “Those flags in the movie have 50 stars, which is historically in accurate, because the scene is set in 1945, when America still had 48 states. Alaska and Hawaii were not added to the union until 1959.”

    Should be “isn’t historically accurate,” right?

    I’ve read a theory on the internet that certain scenes (like the one with the 48 star flag) are Oppenheimer’s own recollection of events and contain intentional errors to illustrate the subjective nature of his memory. Supposedly there are more errors in those scenes (not just continuity but plot).

    I guess we’ll see if Nolan fixes it in future editions.

    I know nothing about the logistics of such things, but maybe 48-star flags are more readily available in the full sized variant, and it simply wasn’t worth it to have them made in the handheld size?

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but when I saw this post, that first photo immediately looked wrong due to the stars.

    Sometimes, when an older relative requests that people share a US flag on social media, I’ll post a 49-star version. I don’t think anyone has commented on this — maybe I shouldn’t expect a comment.

    “I’ll be deep in the cold cold ground before I recognize Missouri.”

    Exact same for me Dave.
    I haven’t seen the movie either. I’m also not great at spotting errors like this. But, instantly when I saw the picture I thought “If that’s from the movie, then those flags are wrong.” So, I’m kind of proud of myself for catching that.

    Myopic Egotists who love for power would love a city to be a state…redundant and an example of bloated excess…
    But Loooovee those other 50 . . . B-D

    Truman frequently wore a bow tie. When FDR died and Truman was sworn into office as President he was wearing a bow tie. link

    Indeed Truman was a very stylish dresser. I one gets the sense that he preferred bow ties to neckties. Truman often wore double-breasted suits, went in for pinstripes and checks in a way rarely seen since, and was even a pioneer in wearing aloha shirts. Man was a bit of a peacock about his clothes, really, in the most charming possible way.

    I recently came across footage of Truman warning the Japanese people* of the impending attack.

    * “Japanese people” is a euphemism for the word used in the title of the newsreel. It was a different time.

    The 50-star flags are a headscratcher. 48-star flags have become effectively Hollywood shorthand for “this is set in the WWII era.” Like, period movies these days often get basic stuff about clothing, colors, buildings, sports, vehicles completely wrong, but the 48-star flag can carry the whole production’s sense of verisimilitude for many audience members. It’s like the one period detail any set or prop person knows they must get right. And the fact that the Oppenheimer crew did get it mostly right means that the people handing out the 50-star flags were the same people working with 48-star flags for other scenes. Like, if the props were delivered at the last minute, I can see production people and the director going with what they had instead of delaying filming for a day or two to correct the flags. Feels like it would have to have been something like that.

    It’s already been added to the IMDB page for this movie. They are great at picking out mistakes, and historically inaccurate elements to movies. In a movie that is set in a certain time period, there always seem to be things in there that are inconsistent with the time frame the movie is based on.


    Oppenheimer’s New Mexico-studded turquoise-studded belt buckle stood out to me. I have to assume that was based on a real thing he wore.

    Oppenheimer’s New Mexico turquoise-studded belt buckle stood out to me. I have to assume that was based on a real thing he wore.

    FWIW, my thought on the 50-star flags, and I noticed them as well: several times Nolan films scenes where he projects people into situations they weren’t actually in. (For example, Oppenheimer riding along in the bomber when the V-2 rockets pass by, and of course the scene of him having sex during the hearing on his security clearance.) Perhaps I’m just making excuses, but I think he might have been trying to transpose Oppenheimer’s words to today, indicating that the issues he was discussing are still around today, and the people who continue to advocate arms buildups are the same as the people who were cheering for the use of the A-Bomb.

    Remember, later in that same scene Oppenheimer begins to see victims of the bombing. So I think that if Nolan did intend to use 50-star flags, he meant to send that message, that nothing is different today. This kind of time transposition would seem to be the most logical explanation.

    “Guys, don’t worry if people catch it. We’ll just say: ‘Supply. Chain. Issues!’” Haha!

    Slightly off topic, but if you ever get the chance, visit the Trinity test site in New Mexico. It is only open for two days out of the year, so some advanced planning is needed, but it is incredibly humbling. I went ten years ago and can still remember the awe of standing at ground zero.


    Came to this story a little late Paul, but the thing that stood out to me when I saw the movie was Matt Damon’s character’s Army uniform service cap.

    I believe the color of the leather trim on his “saucer” service cap is off. From what I saw, the color appeared to be black when the trim during that period was brown.


    I remember that documentary re-creation about ancient Westeros where there was a Starbucks cup that was captured in the background….

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