Filmbros’ favorite director Christopher Nolan returns with a time-jumping film (as usual) telling the story of J. Robert “Oppie” Oppenheimer’s involvement with the Manhattan Project, his communist rizz, and his guilt for building a weapon of mass destruction.
It is truly amazing what Nolan can do with anything really. He crafted a film that uses a historical narrative involving a lot of historical, personal, and political factors and transforms it into a Nolan-esque blockbuster that sensationalizes a man’s perspective and in a way commits the same mistakes he did but on a narrative and formal level, instead of a world-ending one. I know this sounds vague, but what Nolan does first and foremost is focus on Oppie’s guilt and the way he justifies his creation but he also does not forget the historical necessity for such a development (physics breakthrough and WWII). I expected the film to be a bit more pro-USA but it really looked at the country’s policies with a judgmental and condemning eye. The film does not shy away from showing Oppie as a guilty party who wanted to see the bomb in action, under the pretense that he commits an atrocity and show the world the weapon’s power in the hopes of them not using it later on… but how wrong was he, for he built the bomb for ‘Murica, the greatest bomb dropper in history of bomb-dropping. This show’s Oppie’s political immaturity. A lot of criticism was targeted at Nolan for not showing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagazaki but what Nolan does is adopt Oppie’s strategy in reasoning: the bigger picture. I think he shouldn’t have shown the atrocities in the two cities, but Nolan’s commitment to Oppie’s reasoning in not showing the bombings (a part of the process of building and showing a bomb) for the bigger picture (the terrible consequence of A-bombs) is the right choice for a film that adopts such a subjective perspective. And in a way, this goes deeper in showing Oppie’s selfish guilt which was more projected upon himself in the surreal nightmarish visuals which are the only showcase of the bomb’s side effects. And I should not forget mentioning the end of the film as Oppie comes to terms with the weapon he delivered the world and its ramifications – the bigger picture and where his guilt truly lies. Moreover, Nolan does not shy away from showing the bomb as an “erotic” triumph for Oppie: it is not a coincidence that the first time we are introduced to the famous line “Now I have become death, destroyer of worlds” during intercourse with Jean Tatlock and the next time during the bomb scene when the bomb rises in the sky, erect and its glory all for shows – and also the way Nolan sensually photographs the bomb in close-ups showing its crevices and fireballs like he is sexualizing an object.
The film does not only tell Oppie’s POV but also Lewis Strauss’… after all, every blockbuster needs a villain. In my opinion, the scenes with Strauss (in Black and White) could have been omitted from the film. They are important to talk about Oppie’s “martyrdom” and self-punishment with the security clearance appeal. But these could’ve been integrated without having the film crisscross between time periods and POVs. The subjective filmmaking was a pleasure to watch.
The famous Trinity Test, named in honor of Oppie’s mistress, was an underwhelming detonation but with an intense build-up. Nolan’s anti-CGI ego has failed him. The close-ups looked great, beautiful. But what failed him was the forced-perspective shots of the bomb-site: they used a miniaturized construction of the bomb’s platform placed at a distance from the actors. In every shot showing the characters lying down with the bomb in the distance, the explosion looks small and cheap like fireworks which took me out of the film. I reviewed footage of the Trinity Test and the close-ups looked really similar, but the large shots looked utterly cheap – they were at least 5KM away from the bomb and there is no way they could see the structure this big in these shots. Maybe CGI was the better route here, Nolan. And one final thing about the bomb, we should’ve seen the bomb site after the detonation to see the true power of the bomb. You see, the film only shows the power of the bomb radius through a circle around Moscow and other Russian cities and vague numbers in Megatons of TNT which, for us casual viewers who are not bomb experts, cannot really estimate it. The film warns of such a weapon yet fails to show, visually, its destructive power – I guess this is why many people wanted Nolan to show the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombing aftermath. Did you know the trinity test turned the desert sand into glass? Nolan’s sweeping large shots showed the bomb site before detonation and a look at it after detonation would’ve shown us the scale of the gadget (the bomb). And finally, the film never truly explains the science of a nuclear bomb which is a shame because Nolan is really keen on exposition.
The performances in Oppenheimer were a highlight. Cillian Murphy disappeared into the role and gave a very subtle performance, absolutely brilliant. Matt Demon was terrible s groves and way too young to play the character. Bennie Safdie, Casey Affleck, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, and Alden Ehrenreich were standouts. Emily Blunt was good, but people inflated her performance. Tom Conti as Einstein was weirdly comedic and the audience was into him – after all, he is the most household name of all the characters in the film so he was our familiar portal into the events of the story. Gary Oldman was chilling in his small role as Truman. It was a bit distracting seeing famous actors pop into the film every once in a while playing a historical figure we know nothing about. I know they’re actors and it’s their job, but they felt forced into the film.
Ludwig Goransson’s score is really good, but it was overly used in the first hour of the film.
Nolan’s direction of some dramatic moments was not very good, but he sure can direct a bunch of people talking. The film’s grand blockbuster attitude did not really fit the film’s core, and in a way it is what made it accessible to the masses – historically, a film like this should not be this successful, but it’s Noland and he can get people into those seats.