Oppenheimer (Rated R)

By: Matt Fletcher 

Prior to watching Oppenheimer, the latest film from Christopher Nolan, it could be said that his stories had become overly complex and confusing - only existing as a depiction of the size of his budget. Interstellar (2014) and Tenet (2020) are commonly referenced illustrations of this critique, despite Interstellar being a phenomenally entertaining film.  After experiencing the 3-hour journey through American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s most important life events, it is safe to say that Nolan truly shines when working within the limitations of reality. 

Nolan often uses a key theme in each of his films. Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) focus on memory. The Prestige (2006) explores duality and deception. Interstellar at its core is about love. Dunkirk (2017), Nolan’s other film based on historical events, is a clear example of his favorite theme: time. In Dunkirk, Nolan’s British WWII epic,  the score is layered with a literal ticking clock through most of the movie. Tenet, another representation of the auteur’s fascination with time, has the main characters battle forwards and backwards in time all but requiring a second or third watch to understand. In Oppenheimer, time is masterfully wielded by Nolan to impress the agonizing guilt Oppenheimer faces when theory becomes reality. The result proves to be a much more successful and explosive combination of raw materials.

The quest for power is often a catalyst for mankind’s worst decisions. In Oppenheimer, the impact of these choices is the primary question, and like many of Nolan’s films, it doesn’t offer much by way of concrete answers. Instead, one is left to wonder how humanity will continue to confront the very same question of deterrence vs. disarmament present even today. Dr. Oppenheimer coming to terms with being “the Father of the Atomic Bomb” allows us all to experience the enormous pressure and guilt that can rest on one man’s shoulders. Unlike Tenet’s more abstract risks, every viewer who sees Oppenheimer already understands the consequences and knows the outcome. This allows Nolan’s visual storytelling along with the haunting and powerful musical soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson, to create a combustible viewer experience that is both beautiful and terrifying. Oppenheimer demonstrates that at their core, humans are most destructive when willing to overlook the larger impacts of their actions in the pursuit of self interest. The fallout Oppenheimer must confront is a demonstration of his naivete when it comes to understanding humans. While that may not be an uplifting ending, it is beautifully told and like all Nolan movies forces deliberation upon the magnitude of the viewing experience. 

A special thank you to film critic Matt Fletcher for his debut film review at Movie Archer!