Oppenheimer Drama is a 2023 American biographical directed by Christopher Nolan.
The movie stars Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer. The movie is based on the life of American scientist J.
Here is the star cast detail of the movie:
- Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer
- Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer
- Matt Damon as Leslie Groves
- Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss
- Alden Ehrenreich as Senate Aide
- Scott Grimes as Counsel
- Jason Clarke as Roger Robb
- Kurt Koehler as Thomas Morgan
- Tony Goldwyn as Gordon Gray
- John Gowans as Ward Evans
- Macon Blair as Lloyd Garrison
- James D’Arcy as Patrick Blackett
- Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr
- Harry Groener as Senator McGee
- Gregory Jbara as Chairman Magnuson
- Ted King as Senator Bartlett
- Tim DeKay as Senator Pastore
- Steven Houska as Senator Scott1
Despite all of the pre-release excitement about how analog epic-maker Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” would recreate the first atomic bomb explosion, the film’s most magnificent attraction turns out to be something else: the human face.
This three-and-a-half-hour biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is all about faces.
They speak a much. They pay attention. They respond to both positive and terrible news.
And they get lost in their own heads at times, none more so than the title character, the supervisor of the nuclear weapons team at Los Alamos, whose apocalyptic contribution to science earned him the moniker The American Prometheus (as the title of Nolan’s primary source, the biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman).
The large-format IMAX film system is used by Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to contrast the external coolness and internal turmoil of Oppenheimer,
A brilliant mathematician and low-key showman and leader whose impulsive nature and insatiable sexual appetites made his private life a disaster, and whose greatest contribution to civilization was a weapon that could destroy it.
Close-up after close-up shows star Cillian Murphy’s face looking into the middle distance, off-screen, and occasionally directly into the lens, while Oppenheimer dissociates from uncomfortable situations or becomes lost inside recollections, fantasies, and waking nightmares.
“Oppenheimer” rediscovers the power of large close-ups of people’s faces as they struggle with who they are and who others have chosen they should be.
Close-ups of people’s expressions are occasionally broken by flashbacks to events that haven’t yet occurred or have occurred.
There are repeating images of flame, debris, and smaller chain-reaction explosions that resemble strings of firecrackers, as well as non-incendiary imagery that suggest other terrible, personal calamities.
(There are several gradually growing flashbacks in this picture, where you catch a glimpse of something at first, then a little more of it, and ultimately the complete thing.)
But these don’t just relate to the big bomb that Oppenheimer’s team hopes to detonate in the desert, or the little ones that are constantly detonating in Oppenheimer’s life, sometimes because he personally pushed the big red button in a moment of anger, pride or lust, and other times because he made a naive or thoughtless mistake that pissed somebody off long ago, and the wronged person retaliated with the equivalent of a time-delayed bomb.
To use a physics term, the “fissile” cutting is also a metaphor for the domino effect generated by individual actions, and the chain reaction that causes other things to happen as a result.
This principle is also visualized by repeated images of ripples in water, beginning with a closeup of raindrops setting off expanding circles on the surface, foreshadowing both the end of Oppenheimer’s career as a government advisor and public figure and the explosion of the first nuke at Los Alamos (which observers see, then hear, and finally feel, in all its terrifying impact).
|The weight of the film’s interests and meanings are carried by faces—not just Oppenheimer’s, but those of other significant characters, including General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), Los Alamos’ military supervisor; Robert’s suffering wife Kitty Oppenheimer (Emily Blunt), whose tactical mind could have averted a lot of disasters if her husband would have only listened; and Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.), the Atomic Energy Commission chair who despised Oppenheimer for a lot of reasons, including his decision to distance himself from his Jewish roots, and who spent several years trying to derail Oppenheimer’s post-Los Alamos career.|
The latter is a separate full-length narrative about pettiness, mediocrity, and envy. Strauss is the Salieri to Oppenheimer’s Mozart, reminding everyone on a frequent and often pitiful basis that he, too, studied physics back in the day, and that he’s a wonderful person, unlike Oppenheimer the adulterer and communist sympathizer.
(According to the film, Strauss disclosed the FBI dossier on his progressive and communist affiliations to a third party, who subsequently wrote to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.)
The film often refers to one of the principles of quantum physics, which states that monitoring quantum processes using a detector or an instrument can alter the outcome of the experiment.
The editing exemplifies this by continuously re-framing our perspective of an event in order to shift its meaning, and the writing exemplifies this by introducing new material that undermines, contradicts, or widens our understanding of why a character did something, or whether they even knew why they did it.
That, I feel, is what “Oppenheimer” is actually about, far more than the atom bomb itself, or even its impact on the war and the Japanese civilian population, which is discussed but never seen.
The video depicts the effects of the atomic bomb on human flesh, but it is not a reconstruction of the real bombings on Japan; rather, the horrified Oppenheimer imagines Americans suffering through it.
This filmmaking decision is likely to annoy viewers who wanted a more direct reckoning with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as those who believe Strauss and others’ arguments that the bombs had to be dropped because Japan would never have surrendered otherwise.
The film doesn’t say if it believes that view is correct or whether it agrees with Oppenheimer and others who said that at that stage in World War II, Japan was on its knees and would have surrendered if not for the atomic bombings that murdered hundreds of thousands of people.
No, this is a film that enjoys the liberties and indulgences enjoyed by writers, poets, and opera composers.
It does what we expect it to do: dramatize Oppenheimer’s life and the lives of other historically significant people in his orbit in an aesthetically daring way while also allowing all of the characters and events to be used metaphorically and symbolically, so that they become pointillistic elements in a much larger canvas about the mysteries of the human personality and the unintended consequences of decisions made by individuals and societies.
This is another striking thing about “Oppenheimer.” It’s not entirely about Oppenheimer even though Murphy’s baleful face and haunting yet opaque eyes dominate the movie. It’s also about the effect of Oppenheimer’s personality and decisions on other people, from the other strong-willed members of his atom bomb development team (including Benny Safdie’s Edwin Teller, who wanted to skip ahead to create the much more powerful hydrogen bomb, and eventually did) to the beleaguered Kitty; Oppenheimer’s mistress Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh, who has some of Gloria Grahame’s self-immolating smolder); General Groves, who likes Oppenheimer in spite of his arrogance but isn’t going to side with him over the United States government; and even Harry Truman, the US president who ordered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (played in a marvelous cameo by Gary Oldman) and who derides Oppenheimer as a naive and narcissistic “crybaby” who sees history mainly in terms of his own feelings.
Jennifer Lame’s editing is prismatic and relentless, often in a faintly Terrence Malick-y way, skipping between three or more time periods within seconds.
It’s wedded to virtually nonstop music by Ludwig Göransson that fuses with the equally relentless dialogue and monologues to create an odd but distinctive sort of scientifically expository aria that’s probably what it would feel like to read American Prometheus while listening to a playlist of Philip Glass film scores.
Non-linear movies like this one do a better job of capturing the pinball-machine motions of human consciousness than linear movies do, and they also capture what it’s like to read a third-person omniscient book (or a biography that permits itself to imagine what its subjects might have been thinking or feeling).
It also paradoxically captures the mental process of reading a text and responding to it emotionally and viscerally as well as intellectually. The mind stays anchored to the text. But it also jumps outside of it, connecting the text to other texts, to external knowledge, and to one’s own experience and imaginings.
This review hasn’t dug into the film’s storyline or the real-world history that inspired it, not because it isn’t essential (it is), but because, as is often the case with Nolan, the major appeal isn’t the tale itself, but how the director presents it.
Nolan has been chastised for being half a showman and half a mathematician, creating loud, overcomplicated, but ultimately convoluted and unsophisticated blockbusters that are more riddles than tales.
But, whether or not that characterisation was ever exactly accurate (and I’m more sure that it never was), it seems irrelevant when you see how intelligently and rewardingly it’s been applied to a biography of a real person.
It’s possible that “Oppenheimer” will be remembered as a watershed moment in the director’s career, when he takes all of the stylistic and technical practices he’d been honing in intellectualized pulp blockbusters for the previous twenty years and turns them inward, using them to explore the innermost recesses of the mind and heart, rather than just moving human pieces around on a series of interconnected, multi-dimensional storytelling boards.
The movie is an academic-psychedelic biography in the vein of those 1990s Oliver Stone films that were edited within an inch of their lives (at times it’s as if the park bench scene in “JFK” had been expanded to three hours).
There’s also a strain of pitch-black humor, in a Stanley Kubrick mode, as when top government officials meet to go over a list of possible Japanese cities to bomb, and the man reading the list says that he just made an executive decision to delete Kyoto from it because he and his wife honeymooned there.
(The Kubrick connection is cemented further by the presence of “Full Metal Jacket” star Matthew Modine, who co-stars as American engineer and inventor Vannevar Bush.) As an example of top-of-the-line, studio-produced popular art with a dash of swagger,
“Oppenheimer” draws on Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” late-period Terrence Malick, nonlinearly-edited art cinema touchstones like “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” “The Pawnbroker,”
“All That Jazz” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock“; and, inevitably, “Citizen Kane” (there’s even a Rosebud-like mystery surrounding what Oppenheimer and his hero Albert Einstein, played by Tom Conti, talked about on the banks of a Princeton pond).
Most of the performances have a bit of an “old movie” feeling, with the actors snapping off their lines and not moving their faces as much as they would in a more modern story.
A lot of the dialogue is delivered quickly, producing a screwball comedy energy. This comes through most strongly in the arguments between Robert and Kitty about his sexual indiscretions and refusal to listen to her mostly superb advice;
The more abstract debates about power and responsibility between Robert and General Groves, and the scenes between Strauss and a Senate aide (Alden Ehrenreich) who is advising him as he testifies before a committee that he hopes will approve him to serve in President Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet.
But as a physical experience, “Oppenheimer” is something else entirely—it’s hard to say exactly what, and that’s what’s so fascinating about it.
I’ve already heard complaints that the movie is “too long,” that it could’ve ended with the first bomb detonating, and could’ve done without the bits about Oppenheimer’s sex life and the enmity of Strauss, and that it’s perversely self-defeating to devote so much of the running time, including the most of the third hour, to a pair of governmental hearings: the one where Oppenheimer tries to get his security clearance renewed, and Strauss trying to get approved for Eisenhower’s cabinet.
But the film’s furiously entropic tendencies complement the theoretical discussions of the how’s and why’s of the individual and collective personality.
To greater and lesser degrees, all of the characters are appearing before a tribunal and bring called to account for their contradictions, hypocrisies, and sins.
The tribunal is out there in the dark. We’ve been given the information but not told what to decide, which is as it should be.