Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan

So I watched Oppenheimer recently and about a year late! I am a fan of Nolan’s work (see my review of the film Tenet by Christopher Nolan and it’s Architectural Space )and surprise surprise I really loved this film too and will try and briefly say why I liked it.

Oppenheimer is a biographical film of the scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer who was responsible for leading the Manhattan project in Los Alamos. Here the atom bomb was developed.

The film itself is long, three hours, but cut extremely quickly. The cuts are often super fast and they jump in time and between black & white and color. On closer watching the cuts are an integral part of the telling of the story of the film. They slow down I think as the story progresses and they support the key moments of the film.

For instance when the race against time is on and the tension of the first test firing of the atom bomb trinity is being shown the cuts are longer and stay with the moment. Elsewhere when the cuts are fast and jump they are also in the service of the plot to drive the story in a way that a linear telling would be less interesting.

The use of colour and black & white is extremely well done. Nolan I think has said that the color parts are Oppenheimer’s subjective view and the black & white are the objective view. I think that rather than objective I would say it’s third person. Often I think films vacillate between these POVs in an ambiguous way. Here the treatment of the filming is more explicit. It also helps the viewer with an emotive subject such as the development of the atom bomb, the shear horror of it and what it means for humanity is a key subject of the film. The color vs black & white editing serves to help draw this out.

There are strong editing and cinematography moments throughout. For example when Oppenheimer is in the hearing which strips him of his security clearance confessing he stayed the night with Jean Tatlock, then here we see him in that room naked and then actually having sex with her. We clearly see his wife’s anger and the consequences of his actions that effect the committee.

Nolan who has in previous films played with time does it here too. Fast cutting and jumping forward and back in time is a good way to tell a story in layers and itself a metaphor for the basic uncertainty embodied in quantum theory. The POV editing shifting back and forth between black & white and color, the moral emotiveness - is this the destruction of the world manifest or is at a chance at global peace- set against the political tension all feed each other.

The time loop of the film is tied together by a conversation between Oppenheimer and Einstein that nicely opens and closes the everything. The ending scene again between Oppenheimer and Einstein leaves us all hanging during which Oppenheimer speculates to Einstein again;

Oppenheimer: When I came to you with those calculations, we thought we might start a chain reaction that would destroy the entire world.

Einstein: I remember it well. What of it?

Oppenheimer: I believe we did.

Film Review

May 26, 2024