Expected to sweep the Oscars this year, Oppenheimer was largely advertised as an “invention of the atomic bomb” biopic.
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Release Date: 7/21/2023
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Where to Watch: In theaters
Instead, it turned out to be a three-part narrative (ideal for Nolan’s nonlinear storytelling) about the path that led Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) to the Manhattan Project, the trials involved in coordinating that project, and the political fallout that came with being labeled the “father of the atomic bomb” in an era of post-War McCarthyism.
The film jumps alternatively between young Oppenheimer attending university with many recognizable names in physics in the 1920s, the race to beat the Nazis to the bomb in the 40s, and a 1954 hearing in which Oppenheimer’s motivations were put under the spotlight.
Many felt that the film could have been cut down by an hour or more and not sacrificed narrative, but what Nolan’s film uses its three-hour runtime for is unpacking the subjective experience had by the man himself.
The “father of the atomic bomb” – who may well have been called “neurodivergent” if he were around today – pursued atomic power for the Allies not because of political motivations, but instead because of a laser-like focus on solving any problem put in front of him (even though lasers weren’t invented until 1960). The film lets us witness events from Oppenheimer’s detached – but not impersonal – perspective. His emotional troubles are explored, and suggestions made about the connection between his checkered personal life and the emotional distance he had when approaching the Manhattan Project.
After the Trinity test, the Little Boy and Fat Man are promptly manufactured and whisked away by the United States government to drop on Japan. We witness Oppenheimer’s disillusionment at being cast aside by the very institution that hired him to make the bomb in the first place, and – in one of the most poignant scenes of the movie – he sees photographs of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the first time.
Nolan’s choice here not to show the photos to the audience and instead focus on Oppenheimer’s reaction helps drive home just how helpless he felt to do anything but watch his invention take its toll on the world.
About our Admit One Author
Isaac Frankel is a freelance writer and content creator specializing in reviews and analysis of cinema, interactive media, and mythological storytelling. He was raised in Prescott, AZ, wrote his first non-fiction book in 2013 after graduating from Tribeca Flashpoint College with a degree in Game & Interactive Media Design and currently produces content for the YouTube channel: Off Screen.
More of his work and current projects can be found at www.isaacafrankel.com