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Daniel Craig and Stephen Rea

Copenhagen is about Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, two of the great scientific minds of the 20th Century, trying to make sense of a meeting they had in September 1941, while World War II raged around them.
From the vantage point of the hereafter, the spirits of Bohr and Heisenberg, along with Bohr's wife Margrethe, are uncomfortable with the many unanswered questions from that fateful evening in 1941, most significantly: why did Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize winning physicist leading the German atomic bomb team, go to Copenhagen to meet with his old mentor Bohr, a half-Jewish Dane living in Nazi-occupied Denmark?

The film begins in present-day Copenhagen with the spirits of the Bohrs and Heisenberg getting off public transportation and rendezvousing at the old Bohr homestead of 1941.
Flashback to wartime: The Bohrs are apprehensive when Heisenberg first arrives, for they are certain the Gestapo have bugged the house. When they begin to discuss physics, Bohr reiterates his belief that atomic fission has no military use. Heisenberg surprises his former teacher by informing him that he is now in charge of the German atomic program.

Soon enough, Bohr pointedly asks Heisenberg just why he did come all this way to speak to him. Heisenberg is evasive, probing Bohr for any knowledge he may have of an allied nuclear program. Bohr claims to know nothing of the allied research and takes exception when Heisenberg suggests he come to terms with the country that occupies his homeland. Just as tempers begin to flare, the mood is quieted by reminiscence of their first meeting and their early work together in the 1920s, work that revolutionized atomic theory.

Their bonds of friendship momentarily repaired, the two scientists decide to go for a walk to discuss atomic physics; however, it is a very short walk. Only moments after leaving the house, they return with Bohr visibly angry. He abruptly informs a surprised Margrethe that Heisenberg's visit is over.

Normally slow to anger, it is clear to her that Heisenberg said something during the walk that upset her husband. For his part, Heisenberg would later claim all he did was ask his former teacher if scientists, knowing of the consequences, had the moral right to exploit their knowledge of atomic theory.

Shifting back to the present, Heisenberg maintains he was not trying to build an atomic bomb but rather an atomic reactor. Like Bohr, he felt a bomb was impossible to build given the wartime conditions in Germany. Furthermore, he reminds his old mentor, because he expressed these qualms about the logistic difficulties to the German authorities, the German atomic program came to an almost complete end.

Bohr, however, is still uncertain why Heisenberg came to Copenhagen, and suggests they try to recreate, or redraft, their conversation again -- to see if they can figure out exactly what they did say.

In the end, however, after three attempts that degenerate into bitter accusations and second-guessing, the Bohrs and Heisenberg still are no closer to understanding, let alone agreeing, on what happened that night in Copenhagen so long ago.

If the September 1941 conversation between physicists Bohr and Heisenberg had gone differently, would Hitler have gotten the bomb? "If... If..., If... The line of 'Ifs' is a long one," says playwright Michael Frayn, "It remains just possible, though."




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