Barbie (also a licenced product of the brand), made by Greta Gerwig, is the more creatively daring among the two films that make up the so-called “Barbenheimer.” Christopher Nolan’s work is the opposite of “Barbie,” which gives fans more than they might expect. Even though he is an innovator in the film industry, his film is surprisingly traditional for a biopic. It reminds me more of “JFK,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “The Game” than of “Memento” or “Inception” by Christopher Nolan.
Nolan isn’t interested in a story that goes in a linear narrative, but his use of three different time paths, which is the first time he’s done something like that and in filmmaking, seems more like art for art’s sake. But the story of the movie, which is based on the nearly 800-page biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” suffers from the fact that it focuses a lot on the idea that the man who invented the atomic bomb was a communist. The scenes of Oppenheimer and people close to him being questioned by the investigative committee take up more screen time than the events surrounding the Manhattan Project and the secret government experiments in the specially built town of Los Alamos, in the land of the Apaches, which are also very interesting.
Although the film, like the book, begins with an exaggerated quote about Prometheus being punished for stealing fire from the gods, the following sequence promises to be more mature. Young Oppenheimer listens to “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky, reads “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, and contemplates Picasso’s paintings. The ambitious physicist’s scientific brilliance initially appears to be inspired by the grandeur of other masters. However, the director soon abandons this course of action, and the protagonist is repeatedly referred to as the American Prometheus – a fact that will not go unnoticed.
There is also a pretentious sex scene in which Oppenheimer’s communist lover asks him to read the line from the sacred Hindu text “Bhagavad Gita” that he is said to have whispered after the successful test of the atomic bomb: “Now I am Become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Although the film, like the book, begins with an exaggerated quote about Prometheus being punished for stealing fire from the gods, the following sequence promises to be more refined. Young Oppenheimer listens to “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky, reads “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, and contemplates Picasso’s paintings. The ambitious physicist’s scientific brilliance initially appears to be inspired by the grandeur of other masters. However, the director soon abandons this course of action, and the protagonist is repeatedly referred to as the American Prometheus – a fact that will not go unnoticed.
There is also a pretentious sex scene in which Oppenheimer’s communist lover suddenly takes a copy of the ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ the sacred Hindu scripture, from the shelf and asks him to read the line that he is said to have whispered after the successful test of the nuclear bomb: ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’
But nudity, however tacky, lends some colour. The frequent futuristic speculation involving Lewis Strauss from the Atomic Energy Commission is a different story, evoking unmistakable associations with George Clooney’s ‘Good Night and Good Luck,’ a black-and-white historical drama from two decades ago, also set in the McCarthy era and played out primarily in closed rooms with serious men seated at tables. Even Robert Downey Jr.’s selection is spot on. This entire subplot could be eliminated for the greater good of the drama.
A dozen episodes featuring well-known actors such as Matthew Modine, Kenneth Branagh and Casey Affleck, who appear and disappear without much context, could also be eliminated without remorse. Matt Damon shines as Lieutenant Leslie Groves, who hires J. Robert Oppenheimer for the Manhattan Project. Benny Safdie portrays Hungarian physicist Edward Teller, the “father of the hydrogen bomb,” and Josh Hartnett plays Ernest Lawrence, whose work on uranium isotope separation significantly contributed to inventing the most lethal weapon of our time.
As for female characters, Nolan has traditionally conflicting feelings about them. Florence Pugh, as the aforementioned lover Jean Tatlock, is reduced to an erotic ornament, whereas Emily Blunt, as the protagonist’s wife Katherine Oppenheimer, is transformed into a frustrated alcoholic, frequently seen with a container of whisky or martini glass. And when she’s not imbibing, her handbag contains a bra (YES, WE KNOW!). However, Blunt is handed a superbly written interrogation scene in which she humiliates Jason Clarke’s overzealous attorney Roger Robb.
The most significant character is the title character, the incomprehensible genius with a slender physique, restless smile, and perpetually absent gaze. With his sociopathic demeanour and steely blue eyes, Cillian Murphy perfectly embodies these characteristics. It’s a wonderful performance, made even better by Jennifer Lame’s jittery editing and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography, which focuses on extreme close-ups of faces.
“Oppenheimer” is an exceptional audiovisual accomplishment. Sound design and Ludwig Goransson’s immersive compositions contribute considerably to the film’s emotional impact. The tension preceding the finest sequence, the Trinity nuclear test, is expertly crafted. The abrupt silence in a crucial moment, followed by a powerful explosion that hits the audience almost literally, is astonishing. The film is worth viewing, even if only for that scenario, the culmination of the Manhattan Project.
Furthermore, this could be Nolan’s zenith. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the protagonist may experience nightmarish hallucinations redolent of surrealist horror films.
Unfortunately, the film still has an hour remaining and is now laying its cards on the table. From an alternate timeline, we know that Oppenheimer struggled with guilt and lost his security clearance due to espionage suspicions on behalf of the USSR.
In conclusion, we are left with a pacifist message emphasising the consequences of masculine egocentrism, playing God, and witch hunts. Faced with appropriately named nuclear pyrotechnics and threats from President Joe Biden, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un, it may be appropriate, just, righteous, and advantageous. However, it is not as explosive and complex as “Barbie.”
In a sense, “Oppenheimer” discusses the same topic as “Barbie” – the contamination of the world by toxic masculinity. In contrast to Gerwig’s inventive imagination, Nolan only possesses technical skills.