J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Grandson Says Movie’s Poison Apple Scene Isn’t True

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s grandson is speaking out about a scene in Oppenheimer that he says is not verified as a true event.

As the theoretical physicist’s grandson Charles Oppenheimer, 48, spoke with Time magazine recently about his grandfather’s life and Christopher Nolan‘s new movie, the younger Oppenheimer said “the part I like the least is this poison apple reference.”

Early in the new film, a young Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is shown poisoning an apple on his university professor’s desk with potassium cyanide after a frustrated exchange with the professor, only to hurriedly correct his mistake as he first meets Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh) the following day.

“[It] was a problem in American Prometheus. If you read American Prometheus carefully enough, the authors say, ‘We don’t really know if it happened,'” Charles told the outlet, referencing the 2006 biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

“There’s no record of him trying to kill somebody,” Charles explained. “That’s a really serious accusation and it’s historical revision. There’s not a single enemy or friend of Robert Oppenheimer who heard that during his life and considered it to be true.”

Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

According to Charles, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography’s version of the story noted that “all the original reporters of that story — there was only two maybe three — reported that they didn’t know what Robert Oppenheimer was talking about” when he told them a story about a poisoned apple.

“Unfortunately, American Prometheus summarizes that as Robert Oppenheimer tried to kill his teacher and then they [acknowledge that] maybe there’s this doubt,” he added.

A free preview of American Prometheus available on Google Books notes that the incident in question appeared to occur in the fall of 1925 while Oppenheimer was a student at the University of Cambridge in London. The book’s recording of the incident comes from Oppenheimer’s friend Francis Fergusson, who said that Oppenheimer told him about it two months later.

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