I was thrown pretty hard by that early Oppenheimer scene with the poisoned green apple. Actually a lethal apple, injected by Cillian Murphy‘s titular character with liquid cyanide. The intended victim is Patrick Blackett (James Darcy), a Cambridge University instructor and physicist whom Oppie despises.

At the very last minute Oppie comes to his senses, realizes that murdering a professor may impact his life adversely, runs back to the classroom and prevents the apple from being consumed. Except the guy who almost bites into it isn’t Blackett but Danish physicist Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh).

Post-injection my immediate thoughts were (a) “the fuck?”, (b) “What kind of loose-cannon psycho twerp is this asshole? Who does this kind of thing?”; (c) “Oppie almost killed once so who’s the next possible victim? Will he strangle Florence Pugh‘s Jean Tatlock after having sex with her? Will he stab Robert Downey, Jr.‘s Lewis Strauss in the back of the neck with an icepick?

Once you’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of premeditated murder, character-wise you can’t close it. And so the cyanide apple half-hovers over the entire film. Or it did for me, at least.

The poisoned apple incident was described in Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin‘s American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer — the book that Chris Nolan’s film is based upon.

From Louis Chilton‘s “‘A serious accusation’: Did Oppenheimer’s apple-poisoning incident really happen? It’s complicated,” posted a day or so ago in the Independent.

American Prometheus claims that Oppenheimer had “poisoned an apple with chemicals from the laboratory and left it on Blackett’s desk” after becoming “consumed by his feelings of inadequacy and intense jealousy”.

“According to the book, Oppenheimer was allowed to stay on at Cambridge thanks to the intervention of his influential parents, though had to undergo psychiatric treatment. .

“The nature of the poison used is also contested, with the book suggesting that a non-lethal chemical may have been used instead of cyanide.

Ray Monk’s biography of Oppenheimer, A Life Inside the Center, also includes a description of the alleged attempted poisoning. ‘In what looks like an attempt to murder his tutor, or at the very least to make him seriously ill, Oppenheimer left on Blackett’s desk an apple poisoned with toxic chemicals,’ Monk wrote.

“However, the biography also notes that Oppenheimer relayed the story ‘many times in many different versions’ to friends over the course of his life, casting doubt over the specifics of the case.

“Speaking to Time, grandson Charles Oppenheimer did not point the finger towards Nolan, but instead the source material.

“’The part I like the least is this poison apple reference, which was a problem in American Prometheus,’ he said. ‘If you read American Prometheus carefully enough, the authors say, ‘We don’t really know if it happened.’

There’s no record of him trying to kill somebody. 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.”