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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer Viewer Spots Tiny Historical Inconsistency - But Does This Fan Theory Explain It?

In the detail-oriented world of Oppenheimer, at least one minor detail is wrong.

By Matthew Jackson

Christopher Nolan is a director known for his meticulous approach, and Oppenheimer is no different. The new film about the father of the atomic bomb is packed with great details, from period-accurate props and sets to an exact replica of the Trinity atomic bomb itself, it's a movie that thrives on historical accuracy... at least until it doesn't. 

Over the weekend, at least one eagle-eyed moviegoer spotted a historical error in the film. Andrew Craig, an election policy expert at the Rainey Center, tweeted on Friday that, in the scene in which Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) addresses the Los Alamos staff following the successful atomic bombing of Japan, the flags people are waving actually show up a few years too early. 

Check out the tiny historical inaccuracy in Oppenheimer

In a subsequent tweet, Craig explained that he knew the flag was off when he saw the "staggered" pattern of the stars, rather than the grid of the 48-star flag which still would have been the norm in 1945, before Hawaii and Alaska were made new U.S. states. To add to the weight of the inaccuracy, in an earlier scene at Los Alamos, we can see the correct, 48-star flag waving on a pole behind Oppenheimer as he returns from the successful Trinity test. 

Cillian Murphy waves his hat as an American flag flies in Oppenheimer (2023)

So, is there a way to explain this? One Twitter user theorized that, since Oppenheimer is recalling the Los Alamos scene from the future, during his security hearing, he's simply substituting the current flag for the old one in his mind's eye, but this doesn't work either. The security hearings were held in 1954, and the 50-state flag didn't emerge until 1960. Plus, there's the issue of the 48-state flag right there in the middle of Los Alamos in an earlier scene, which Oppenheimer is also recalling during his hearings. It doesn't feel like an intentional choice. It might just be a goof that no one managed to catch in the heat of production. 

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But, if you still want to come up with some kind of explanation for why the flag looks that way in the Los Alamos meeting scene, here's a thought: The modern America, and indeed the modern world, was born with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After those attacks, Japan surrendered, World War II ended, and the conflict that would consume the rest of the 20th century, the Cold War, was born. It's possible Nolan is making a statement that, after the Japan bombings, the American as we know it came to exist, and therefore he used the 50-state flag as a kind of metaphorical representation of that moment. 

It's also possible that it really is just a mistake that may or may not be fixed digitally for the Blu-ray release. But hey, it could be worse. The entire Los Alamos facility could be littered with background Starbucks cups.

Oppenheimer is in theaters now. Get tickets at Fandango now!