Oppenheimer movie review: Christopher Nolan gives a truly magnificent IMAX experience that will make you speechless
What: Oppenheimer - A scientist’s mind is bigger than the atomic bomb he created.
Oppenheimer movie review
When was the last time you stepped out of a movie theatre, so stunned by the magnificence of the film you have just watched, not being able to say anything?
Arrival, definitely. Jaws and the original Jurassic Park as well, but nothing else that comes to mind. Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is a film that needs to be watched on the IMAX screens as it is meant to be. And not just because Kodak developed a special film so that the black and white scenes would look just as incredible as the coloured scenes in the IMAX format (which the director Christopher Nolan seems to prefer), but also because the film is true to real life events as they happened.
If you read the book, The American Prometheus – on which the film is largely based, you will be fascinated by a quote, rather early in the book, is by Robert Oppenheimer reminiscing: ‘I was an unctuous, repulsively good boy. My life as a child did not prepare me for the fact that the world is full of cruel and bitter things.’
The book tells us that his sheltered upbringing at home did not offer him to ‘a normal healthy way to be a bas****, but it has created an inner toughness, an inner stoicism, that Robert himself may not have recognised.’
This sickly child then goes on to be the father of the atom bomb whose story we see unfold in the film. J Robert Oppenheimer, his icy blue eyes staring in the future, looking at images his mind was creating, looking at a past, and sometimes looking directly at us, the audience. Challenging us to accuse him just the secretive man sitting away from the public eye did. Accusing him of playing God. Accusing of misusing power. Accusing him of being a communist (that was J Edgar Hoover’s campaign of fear which turned a friend against a friend and a neighbour against a neighbour) and punishing him for his insatiable appetites: sexual and otherwise.
You have seen films like Trumbo (2015) where a great film writer was also side lined and sent off to ignominy because the men in black showed up and accused him of being a communist… America, after the second world war (which they helped win because they dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, was witnessing an infestation of secrecy and betrayal. And accusing someone of being a Communist was the surest way of ruining their career and life.
The story of Oppenheimer is told in the way Diwali fireworks. The box of Flashing Diamonds. Super Star Crackling and more - are rockets that are not like the normal rockets you and I have lit during the festival using an old beer bottle borrowed from neighbourhood uncle. It’s a box where a series of rockets go up in the sky and light up one by one. Each flash and explosion followed by a bigger one and then the whole patch of sky over your home is shining with hundreds of stars that make you gasp in joy. The film is like this rocket cluster experience. First you get a small flash. You say, ‘Aah!’ Then the small flash is followed by a colourful one so now everyone goes, ‘Oho!’ With each successful burst, you are so mesmerised that you don’t have any more exclamations left inside you.
Now imagine this fireworks experience in IMAX going on for three whole hours!
Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is the scientist who is so headstrong he will not listen to his scientist wife’s suggestions. That she’s frustrated and takes to alcohol is understood and you have so much empathy for her madness. Emily Blunt plays the wife, Kitty Oppenheimer, quite brilliantly.
The film shown in small bursts of stars, bring forth the talents of Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr.
Surrounded by a real-life desert, the drama is played out in a small town created so that the scientists give the Manhattan Project their everything. The Cookie cutter houses, put up to create a mirage of normalcy hide so many secrets. And that includes Soviet spies. The government is trying to figure out where the science ends and governance begins. If a scientific mind is greater than what the men in power can comprehend, then the scientific man will be silenced, brought down by endless Congressional hearings. Does Robert Oppenheimer break down under their relentless questioning?
Nolan breaks away into Oppenheimer’s thoughts, that take him into snippets that hide in his head, formulas and strings of information… And yes, the eternal question: Did Oppenheimer ever feel guilt for having killed so many people? Did he feel remorse for the deadly bomb he created? Did he ever think that his awful bomb was just the beginning in a race for bombs that could eventually blow up the planet?
This magnificent film is a visual treat and everyone should watch it in the biggest theatre near them. You weep for the destructive power of the bomb, and want to shake the man responsible for it and are aghast at how untouched he was by the brutality of it all. But even bigger is the question that Nolan leaves us with: When governments and science start anything with good intentions, do they ever draw boundaries?