If you are having second thoughts about whether Christopher Nolan’s latest three-hour epic is worth it, I will say, it’s the best movie I’ve seen so far in terms of sheer mastery of what filmmaking is. The biggest detriment of the movie is how underdeveloped the women are, but I still give it a five star rating for everything else.
While Oppenheimer invites you to stare at Cillian Murphy’s face in shallow-focus, IMAX-sized close-ups for much of its three-hour running time, it also offers serious insight as to what’s happening behind his marble-blue eyes through the objective point-of-view, much of which is delivered through Robert Downey Jr. and Rami Malek’s Oscar worthy performances.
Things to look out for include the Trinity scene, with its climactic sound effects. This was possibly one of the loudest films I’ve ever seen, with every aspect of the sound design rattling my bones. In a film that is essentially a character study with the atomic bomb at the center of it, the courtroom drama reveals itself to be the most explosive part for this work of art.
Then, there’s “Fusion,” shot on the infamous IMAX black-and-white film stock. This sliver of the film chronicles Lewis Strauss’ 1958 confirmation hearing to become Eisenhower’s Secretary of Commerce, a bid that is initially only semi-related to this story until Rami Malek portrayal of David Hill refracts Strauss’ thirst for power through the prism of what Oppenheimer paid for it.
Through Nolan’s non-chronological discourse, not only do we experience the bomb, the fallout, and the aftermath, but the dilemma that makes discovery inextricable from devastation, creation inextricable from destruction, and the innocent joy of theory inextricable from the unfathomable horror of practice.
For me, Florence Pugh’s existence is justification enough to be in any movie, regardless of the role and screen time. Pugh’s sensuality is just another tool in her acting arsenal, and she uses it to devastating effect. We talk about how movies are essentially sexless, distant, and sanitized, but Florence has such an earthy, tangible quality to her.
Emily Blunt has no such luck in the role of Oppenheimer’s alcoholic wife, whose diminishment feels particularly egregious in a movie that hardly bothers to express what Oppenheimer thinks of her, or if he thinks of her at all.
While there has been a fair amount of discourse on the depiction of Japanese people or lack thereof, I certainly don’t think a white man is the right person to tell their stories. The film is a clear indictment of the weapon and how it changed humanity for the worse.
It explicitly shows the disconnect, and even callousness of Oppenheimer, the scientists, the United States military and government, and the American people who had to witness the horrors of what they had unleashed on the Japanese and the world.
Sure, audiences’ attention spans have dwindled, but if we’ve learned anything from Oppenheimer, it’s that an ensemble cast and phenomenal writing and sound effects can do wonders.