Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer”, a mind-boggling film on J. Robert Oppenheimer famously known as the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ contains a change in consciousness that is enormous and lasts for only three hours with haunting consequences. It is always said that genius, error, and hubris are both individual and collective. The troubled existence of this American theoretical physicist who was very instrumental in researching and developing the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II — events that heralded our current human age, is ably and beautifully depicted here.
It’s an adaptation of Kai Bird’s 2005 biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph And Tragedy Of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” Nolan scripted it himself as well as directed it, hence the book serves as his source material mainly for Oppenheimer’s life including his position in the Manhattan Engineer District more commonly known as The Manhattan Project. He also ran an undercover weapons laboratory situated in a practically deserted locale called Los Alamos, New Mexico where he puzzled out alongside several other brilliant scientific minds from that time how to control nuclear reactions so they could produce weapons capable of killing tens of thousands immediately ending the Pacific war.
In turn, this movie defines what history will say about Oppenheimer by examining its aftermaths. The narrative goes deep into the details surrounding the making of a bomb; amazing yet disgusting process however it does not recapture any visions of dead people or photographs showing razed cities which would be seen as moral absolutes by him. This film is pervaded by horror at what happened when these weapons were detonated, at how much suffering resulted from them, and at those arms races that ensued afterward. In terms of its formality and conceptuality Oppenheimer stands up there with great works but also manages to engage you fully thanks to some cleverness although one thing must be made clear- Nolan’s filmmaking is deliberately subservient to the history he recounts.
The film watches Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy in a frenzied mode) travel through decades, starting from a boy in his twenties and ending when his strands turn grey. There’s a focus on personal as well as professional landmarks like his part in the bomb project, controversies surrounding him, near annihilation by anti-communism, and even the love-hate relationships that kept him going. In addition, he becomes romantically involved with Jean Tatlock who is an activist (a spirited Florence Pugh), before marrying Kitty Harrison who is a scintillating drunkard (Emily Blunt playing it slow at first before she builds up) and moving with her to Los Alamos where she gives birth to their second child.
It’s jam-packed with incidents tale and its structure is complex because Nolan has always been someone willing to play around with filmic plasticity thus encoding into various sections. Other chapters are in high-contrast black-and-white; most are lush color scenes. The sequences are arranged in strands that intertwine into a shape that makes one think of DNA double helix. Thus, he titles this picture “fission” meaning splitting up into parts; “fusion” implying merging fractures; although for goodness sake Nolan can be such a character that even further messes around with his big storyline – it simply becomes too much!
It is also not a story of gradual development, but one that Nolan throws you into the whirlpool of Oppenheimer’s life through vivid scenes of him at various times. Swiftly, soon after watching Ageless Oppie (as his pals nicknamed him), and when he was younger, just flashed on the screen. The tale then abruptly moves to the 1920s for a short time where he is shown as a tortured, student with visions that are fiery and apocalyptic.
So there are poignantly suffering and reading T.S Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” drops the needle on Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and stands before Picasso’s painting among works defining an era in which physics bent space-time into space-time itself.
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