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The destroyer of worlds quote in Oppenheimer explained

The real J Robert Oppenheimer is closely associated with a quote about being 'the destroyer of worlds'. Here's how the new movie deals with that pivotal line.

Oppenheimer's destroyer of worlds quote has become famous over the years

What is the destroyer of worlds quote in Oppenheimer? The complex legacy of the atomic bomb innovator J. Robert Oppenheimer is summed up in a brief sentence that he has said entered his mind when he witnessed the power of his invention: “Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds”.

Given the importance of those words in the legacy of Oppenheimer, they had to play a role in Christopher Nolan‘s biopic. One of the biggest new movies of the summer, it tells the Oppenheimer true story and works hard to wrangle the man’s complicated reputation. You can check out our Oppenheimer review for more detail on what we thought of it.

Of course, Cillian Murphy delivers the destroyer of worlds quote in Oppenheimer, but it’s now time to look into where those words come from and what they actually mean.

Where does the “destroyer of worlds” quote in Oppenheimer come from?

The “destroyer of worlds” quote in Oppenheimer is a passage from Hindu scripture, taken from the Bhagavad Gita.

In the movie, Oppenheimer tells Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) that he has been reading the Bhagavad Gita in the original Sanskrit and she asks him to read the segment to her while they are having sex. This has brought about the Oppenheimer sex scene controversy.

The segment Oppenheimer reads includes a line that translates into English as “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. In Hinduism, the soul is seen as eternal and so there’s a different meaning to the idea of death. But as for Oppenheimer, he found a very literal definition to the words.

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock in Oppenheimer

Why did Oppenheimer say “Now I am become Death the destroyer of worlds”?

Oppenheimer recalled the “destroyer of worlds” quote from the Bhagavad Gita in the wake of the Trinity Test, reflecting on the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

The real Oppenheimer reflected in the wake of the Trinity Test that he thought of these words from the Bhagavad Gita when he witnessed the incredible power of the weapons he had helped to create.

Given the way the movie shows how close these scientists feared they would come to the destruction of all mankind, there’s no doubt that this quote sums up the gravity of what they built at Los Alamos.

Since Oppenheimer said these words, they have become a fixture of discussions in the English-speaking world around nuclear weapons and around Oppenheimer’s legacy. This has become the scientist’s most renowned proclamation about his own views on the nuclear arms race.

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For more on the newest addition to the list of Christopher Nolan movies ranked, take a look at our guide to the Oppenheimer ending. You can also find out why Lewis Strauss hated Oppenheimer and what Oppenheimer said to Einstein. We’ve also explained the bizarre story of how Oppenheimer and Terminator 2 share an inspiration.

We’ve also got guides to the best movies still coming to cinemas in 2023, including the Dune 2 release date, The Meg 2 release date, and the Killers of the Flower Moon release date. For more on the latter, check out our Killers of the Flower Moon review.