Destroyer of worlds. A fearsome new technology. Cillian Murphy finds himself in an intimate relationship with it in Oppenheimer.
This is one of Nolan’s finest films. It’s incredibly thought provoking and really gets inside the head of those involved with giving the world nuclear weapons.
It is almost shakespearean in the triumph and tragedy of Oppenheimer’s invention. Sometimes Oppenheimer takes only a few seconds to go from the highest sense of relief and achievement, to a place of sheer terror. It allows you to feel both the insensitivity and detachment that those in the US military and Manhattan Project felt about the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, at the same time as allowing you to feel the horror of it. Oppenheimer was undoubtably a haunted man.
In Nolan’s version of events, the vulnerable personal side of the man is pitched deep into the fever pitch hysteria of war. The drum-beat of war is never far away from Oppenheimer, and never far away from the soundtrack which is ear-blasting.
The quality and power of your cinema’s audio system is of equal importance to the 70mm print in terms of the best way to see Oppenheimer, so IMAX is definitely recommended.
The ‘thinking-man’s Blockbuster director’ (as I see Nolan) pioneered the modern gritty realism style of escapism, for better or worse. He handles big concepts with an auteur’s hand on the tiller. The perfect man to take on Oppenheimer. This is a film which demands a second viewing, perhaps a third. Nolan has a style that I do sometimes find challenging to watch. A lot of going back and forth in time rather than a linear approach, and a lot of very intense diagloue. Oppenheimer is a very dialogue intense film. It is not a Tarkovsky movie or one with a lot of lingering shots, and meaningful silences.
Not that it lacks for pure spectacle.
Nolan’s laudable reluctance to embrace too much CGI and his choice to do as much in-camera as possible proves worth it. He’s an auteur and the idea of conceding so much control to an FX house pains him.
The film has at least 3 absolutely amazing signature moments and a fantastic ending. Even though it’s a three hour film the pacing is very quick. He’s packed a lot in. There’s an very high level of energy and intensity all the time, and you really feel that pressure he’s under to deliver a weapon of such importance.
It’s thought provoking that if Oppenheimer’s team had delivered the bomb a bit earlier (before the defeat of Hitler) the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would probably have been spared. Instead the bombs would probably have fallen on Berlin and Hamburg.
Kodak invented a new black and white IMAX film for Nolan, and with him being such a staunch advocate of film over digital he uses this to great effect. It’s a beautiful film stock and he gives a more objective, detached perspective in the black and white scenes, whereas the colour parts are more in the first person from Oppenheimer’s perspective.
Sometimes there are a few noticeable issues with focus where you might have a forehead in focus rather than the face, such is the challenge of 70mm!
Could it have been shot on an Alexa 65 of course, but the logic behind Nolan’s love affair with film extends beyond just shooting style, photo-chemical film is a community and keeps a lot of very talented people in rare jobs which otherwise might be lost forever.
There’s a lot of ‘courtroom drama’ shot on the Kodak black and white IMAX film in Oppenheimer which delay the build up and gratification of the central story, that of delivering the Manhattan project. I get the sense that Nolan wanted to avoid putting all of the witch hunt in the second half of the movie so he scatters it throughout the whole.
There’s quite a lot of cliche in the classroom chalk-board science scenes, in terms of the ensemble cast, with characters that seem too melodramatic and emotional in my view given the academic nature of their work. In fact Oppenheimer is overall a very melodramatic movie, but it works because of the talent of the cast in particular Matt Damon and Cillian Murphy.
When Matt Damon’s character shows up the movie kicks up a gear and he adds a much needed ‘twinkle’ of charisma and sarcasm in every scene he’s in. This is a really helpful addition to balance the movie after the very earnest earlier scenes, and there’s even some witty humour. This sits about as comfortably in Oppenheimer as the sex scenes!! Every time there’s a moment of brevity in Oppenheimer, it’s instantly lost and the smile drops off your face very quickly.
A lot of the film is about the fallout from Oppenheimer’s suspected communist political links. However the most uncomfortable parts of the film for me are the celebratory scenes, from the US perspective, as I don’t think it will make easy viewing at all for anybody with any empathy for those lives lost in Japan.
It is very jarring to juxtapose the murder of 226,000 people with any kind of blockbuster moments.
Nolan doesn’t shy away from the ethics of it, but some scenes feel like they excuse the science from risking the ignition of the world’s atmosphere to develop a tool of mass murder.
In the 1940s however it was seen as an all-or-nothing situation for the security of the US and indeed the world. Nolan has portrayed this in Oppenheimer in a very intimate, human, personal, first person way. Because of that, it humanises the atrocity and poses the question that it was inevitable, and if it hadn’t had been the US then the Nazis or Communists would have done it first, which would be terrible.
Perhaps Nolan owes us a second Oppenheimer, from the perspective of a Japanese citizen.
A less US-centric vision of the world perhaps would make for a very refreshing Nolan movie.
He is after all a British director!