OPPENHEIMER – 2023 dir: Christopher Nolan
by Darren Cunningham
Christopher Nolan has a huge fanboy following and is largely known for his Dark Knight Batman trilogy films. Some of his films like Inception and Tenet, have tackled metaphysical concept themes of time paradoxes and reality vs illusion. These films may be challenging for viewers, not only structurally, but also figuratively. It is best to go into a Nolan film and not hard wire oneself into thinking about what is going on, but to just allow it to unfold as it presents itself. This way, by the film’s conclusion, it can render an intellectually rewarding experience.
Here, Nolan has made his first biopic about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, aka - “father of the atomic bomb” - a subject that has been covered previously in documentaries and TV series. Here, we get a big screen treatment of Oppenheimer’s life and Nolan has made sure it would be big for certain presentations due to his filming technique of being shot on 65mm film stock with some sequences filmed horizontally for IMAX ratio presentations.
While a big screen presentation can enhance the viewing experience, ultimately, the film is an intimate portrayal of a 20th Century historic figure whose invention changed the course of the Pacific War in 1945 WWII with a frightening consequence. Not to mention how it has been politically weaponized as a measure of military might against one nation over another.
Irish actor Cillian Murphy expertly portrays the American born Oppenheimer in all his glorious achievements and flaws, which gives the viewer an insightful representation of his humanity and personal conflicts. Chronicling early University life in Europe, his animosity, depression issues, relationships and follows him thru to his selection for the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos New Mexico, (one of Oppenheimer’s favourite places), through to bureaucratic security clearance issues after the war.
The film treads a fine line between the science of how the H-Bomb was created and the political ramifications stirred up and used for manipulating agendas. Into this political fold, much focus is placed on Lewis Strauss, the man responsible for selecting Oppenheimer for the Manhattan Project. Strauss is skilfully portrayed by Robert Downey Jnr, who gives the film insight into what was going on within the bureaucratic corridors of power.
Nolan has used both colour and black and white sequences in his film to distinguish between the perspectives of Oppenheimer (c0lour) and Strauss (B&W) to assist the viewer in differentiating the subjective and objective aspects of the narrative. Sound also plays a crucial part in the film and within this framework, Nolan has utilized composer Ludwig Göransson’s music too intense effect. This score becomes an ambient and abstract secondary character driving the events forward. Without this aural effect, the film could appear a tad dry.
Oppenheimer is a slow burn of a film about a passionate and fiery man that is moulded from an older style of film-making that isn’t often seen today. It is a fascinating journey into the exploration of a brilliant and conflicted mind.