Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

A Shift from Sci-Fi Action to Biographical Film

Christopher Nolan, a director whose works are always mind-blowing and usually demand extra thought to understand his films, is known as such. Three years after releasing Tenet, Nolan returns with his latest work, Oppenheimer. After delving into the realm of sci-fi action with Tenet, Nolan now embarks on a biographical film portraying the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, renowned as the mastermind behind the development of the atomic bomb.

Cillian Murphy portrays Oppenheimer in the film. Alongside Murphy, the film stars a lineup of renowned actors, including Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and other notable actors. Based on the biography book American Prometheus written by Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird, the film narrates the life story of Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist who played a role in developing nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project.

Here, we can see Oppenheimer’s fascination with physics, his considerations in running the Manhattan Project, and the moral burden after his bomb devastated Japan. During World War II, German troops under Adolf Hitler dominated Europe in the film’s story. On the other side, Oppenheimer is a leading US physicist whom General Leslie Groves asked to create a powerful bomb to stop the war.

The Moral Dilemma Unleashed

Oppenheimer gathers all the top scientists from all over the country in an isolated laboratory area named Los Alamos. After three years of effort and difficulties, the requested atomic bomb was realized. The US military wastes no time in testing the bomb on Japan. The moral dilemma of the creator of the atomic bomb begins at this moment. Before watching, we must be prepared for a Nolan-made film that is only sometimes easy to digest.

Oppenheimer passionately tells its story from the beginning through his signature non-linear style. Like his first film, Following, the plot is presented alternatively through three to four timelines. The film goes back and forth, advancing and rewinding, often without us fully realizing which segment is from the future, past, or present. To assist, Nolan gives one segment with a different color tone, black and white, for an important character, Lewis Strauss.

Still, it is difficult to digest such a brutal story transitioning from the past to the present or vice versa. Most viewers will likely feel exhausted. However, those familiar with Nolan’s films surely know how to enjoy it. Let it flow without having to focus entirely on every scene.

Emphasizing the Cinematic Complexity

We must be able to see the big picture with the cinematic emphasis the filmmaker uses. It is not easy, indeed. So far, Oppenheimer is the most complex non-linear narrative created by the filmmaker. One thing that unites all this complexity is the powerful message at the end, akin to an atomic bomb. For information, Oppenheimer has a three-hour duration, which is certainly not a short duration for watching in a cinema.

Three hours of watching the film will indeed be felt because the film has a relatively slow pace. Nolan also prioritizes the use of dialogue in the storytelling process of his film. Nonetheless, Nolan manages to keep us engaged from the film’s beginning to end. Although the pace is slow, Oppenheimer presents intensely engaging dialogues throughout the film. Each dialogue spoken is crucial for the audience to understand Oppenheimer’s life story.

The film is narrated non-linearly, where the forward or backward flow can emerge from one scene to another. Surprisingly, Nolan manages to help us distinguish between the forward and backward timelines without confusion. The back-and-forth narrative, seemingly scattered like a puzzle, eventually comes together perfectly at the film’s conclusion.

The Astonishing Cinematic Effect

The dominance of editing is not the film’s most vital point. One eagerly awaited scene is the powerful explosion of the atomic bomb, purportedly using an actual nuclear bomb. The filmmaker presents it uniquely by momentarily silencing all sounds after the bomb detonates. The effect is truly astonishing in the cinema. The stark visuals on the screen are accompanied by absolute silence.

Interestingly, Nolan also employs the aesthetic packaging of the atomic bomb in two crucial scenes: when Oppenheimer delivers a speech after the test and at the end of a closed-door hearing. It is as if the atomic bomb explodes intensely in the room. The technique of the atomic bomb serves as an innovative achievement, brilliantly symbolizing the protagonist’s mental state.

Lastly, the sharp musical score, akin to Dunkirk, continuously intimidates us throughout the story, even brilliantly using the sound of footsteps. After a long time, Nolan’s favorite actor, Murphy, finally receives the role he deserves. Murphy’s brilliant performance as an unconventional physicist exudes confidence and vulnerability due to his romantic entanglements and ethical quandaries.

His acting is strong enough to make him a strong contender for the best actor category. The supporting cast, including Pugh, Downey Jr., and Blunt, is flawless.

The Atomic Bomb and Human Greed

Mainly, Blunt plays with great expressiveness in every appearance as the scientist’s wife. Despite his brief appearance, veteran actor Gary Oldman steals the spotlight in a crucial scene. Anyone familiar with Murphy’s acting in other films or series will undoubtedly not doubt his acting ability. Visually, Murphy already resembles Oppenheimer, and through his acting, he truly succeeds in portraying all the turmoil experienced by Oppenheimer in his lifetime.

Even more impressive is how Nolan directs all his notable actors to shine, even in their short appearances in Oppenheimer. With its three-hour duration and non-linear storytelling, it is clear that the film may overwhelm the audience. However, with all its aesthetic achievements and powerful message, Oppenheimer is one of Nolan’s best works and one of the finest anti-war films ever produced.

Nolan not only presents a grand cinematic experience but also delves into the humanity of a god-like figure. Someone capable of destroying the world with a snap of his fingers. The atomic bomb is not the greatest threat to humanity; it is human greed. It is challenging to underestimate Nolan’s mastery of visuals and audio for the films he creates. Once again, Nolan does not fail to deliver mind-blowing visuals and audio in Oppenheimer.

Captivating Realism and Intensity

Claiming to have used no CGI at all, Nolan proves that practical visual effects are still relevant, and the results can rival modern CGI-driven films. The Trinity scene, the moment of the first nuclear weapon test in the Manhattan Project, is captivating. The explosion feels real and intense. Moreover, Nolan also cleverly inserts fleeting moments of chemical reactions from atoms, making the scientific atmosphere in this film feel even more authentic.

Nolan’s collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema in the film is genuinely satisfying. Apart from the dialogues, another aspect that intensifies Oppenheimer‘s story is the use of its scoring. Nolan and composer Ludwig Göransson successfully create majestic scoring that also makes us feel the turmoil in Oppenheimer‘s heart. Only they can turn foot stomps on wooden chairs into such iconic scoring that unsettles the heart when heard.

A man who took immense pride in his discoveries could not face them directly. Although the atomic bomb only occupies a small part of this film, it primarily delves into the mindset of its creator. Oppenheimer’s intense ambition and unwavering love for physics burden him with a sense of impending doom and moral conflicts. Nolan cleverly contrasts Oppenheimer‘s emotions with his rationality, making the disconnect between the two the film’s central theme.

Conveying Agony and Restrained Anger

One man’s ambition to combat fascism and save lives ultimately led to the tragic loss of human lives, portrayed brilliantly by Murphy, who skillfully conveys agony and restrained anger with his piercing blue eyes. Downey Jr. and Blunt deliver excellent performances, while Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, and Matt Damon shine in their well-cast extended cameos. Oppenheimer leaves the audience emotionally shattered, presenting a gripping portrayal of a man tormented by guilt and inner turmoil.

He became the embodiment of the quote, “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” This film will be etched in our memories for a long time.


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