‘Oppenheimer’ Review: The True American Prometheus

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by | Aug 14, 2023 | Film & TV

Christopher Nolan's recent visual masterpiece tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who created a weapon that changed the course of history.

Oppenheimer is recent proof that good cinema is still alive and kicking. With bright CGI multiverses and heroic superhero action movies now slowly dwindling in popularity, the stage is set for the return of epic original projects. Director Christopher Nolan presents us with a morally challenging story about a man who gave us the power to destroy ourselves.

Cillian Murphy gives a stunning performance as the American Prometheus himself with an equally talented supporting cast featuring Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon to mention a few. While at a considerably lengthy run time of three hours, Oppenheimer covers not only the events leading up to and the actual creation of the first nuclear weapon but also the aftermath of its use and the effect it had on the world.

Oppenheimer

THE GENIUS OF OPPENHEIMER

Cillian Murphy has worked with Nolan on a number of his movies however his role as titular scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer is easily his standout performance. Anyone watching who understands physics may be less impressed but the layman such as myself will watch in awe as Murphy talks all things science, it actually hits that sudden realisation in your head that ‘damn this guy is an actual certified genius, how can people be this smart!’. At least that’s what happened when I watched it.

The true genius of the man behind the bomb is a centre point in this film and is something that both endears us and alienates us as the audience. Murphy’s Oppenheimer sees the world as no other person sees the world (except Einstein who makes an appearance), this aura of mystery and superior intellect is what casts the man as a very lonely yet compelling individual. At some points it is unclear whether we should be rooting for Oppenheimer, or casting doubt the same way many people did back when these events took place, as shown in this film.

Oppenheimer

OPPENHEIMER – WAR OR DRAMA FILM?

Those who struggle with Christopher Nolan’s time jumping antics of storytelling or can’t maintain concentrating on long spouts of dialogue without much action, may wish to stay clear of this film.

There was some expectation that this movie would be a race against the clock/cut to the action war movie that would flash between Oppenheimer’s construction of the bomb and the chaotic gunfights of the front lines. This movie though compelling on paper would not have had the same message that Nolan intends with his film. Had we seen the deaths of American soldiers at the hands of the Japanese, the audience would have in all likelihood had no moral quandaries about supporting our protagonist in his quest.

Oppenheimer never shows any fighting, it shows the lives of those making the big decisions back on American soil. It shows scientists, not soldiers, working enthusiastically on building what would be one of the biggest weapons of mass destruction in human history. It aims not to bias audience opinion through showing a battlefield but to inform them on the importance of the impossible situation these real people were placed in and to form their own opinions of whether this was right or wrong. Did the ends truly justify the means in this conflict?

Oppenheimer

OPPENHEIMER – HERO OR VILLAIN?

The inner conflict of Oppenheimer is evident in Murphy’s portrayal, though there are many moments that do not give the audience a true understanding of the man’s thinking. It is left much to the viewers opinion how they interpret Oppenheimer’s character, whether or not he was being naive or ignorant of the devastation his weapon would cause, his association with the communist party and his hostility with Lewis Strauss (played by Robert Downey Jr).

Though the end of the movie seems to clear up much of these questions, making out Strauss as the ‘villain’ and Oppenheimer as the repentant hero figure, it still gives much food for thought regarding the true thoughts and feelings the real Oppenheimer had after the bombs were dropped. This ambiguity is one reason why the film has and should spark further debate about the use of nuclear weapons in todays world.

Oppenheimer

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is so much to unpack from Nolan’s Oppenheimer I could write another article altogether covering the flawless cinematography and sound design which hits every beat of a classic Nolan movie. Sound in particular is used so cleverly to establish the literal idea of the quiet before the storm. Everyone knows the bomb will go off, it’s the focal point of the movie, so Nolan has to find a way to build up to that expected point with enough tension that turns the expected, unexpected. It has to be dramatic, explosive, powerful and most importantly jaw dropping. He does this masterfully.

For those who love creative movies with tons of personality, atmosphere and quality acting performances, this movie is for you. While movies with clear messages can be rather forceful in their execution in order to get it across to audiences, Oppenheimer is much more subtle to the point where perhaps only critics and enthusiasts will really leave their seats asking these bigger philosophical questions. It is just as appropriate to leave the theatre with a clear conscious having just enjoyed an impressive historical drama with great acting. Whether you leave Oppenheimer with heavy thoughts or feeling as though you’ve wasted three hours of your life (though few have this opinion) it is certainly a film that stays with you, for better or worse.

If you still require further convincing or just need a glimpse of the amazing visuals, check out the trailer below.

Written by George Cooper

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