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Film Review: Oppenheimer

FILM REVIEW
OPPENHEIMER
Rated R
180 Minutes
Released July 21

 I feel like my brain has been split into pieces like an atom and exploded into small bits swirling through space. Yes, I made the journey through the deep crevices and dizzying precipices of Oppenheimer. Renowned director Christopher Nolan adapted this film from the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus, about J. Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atom bomb. Oppenheimer made a huge mark on modern history.  A “big picture” person, a theorist rather than a researcher or engineer, he was well-rounded in his studies which included English and French literature and philosophy, and he was drawn to physics by an experimental thermodynamics course at Harvard. His subsequent independent study in that science earned him a BA degree from the school within three years in 1925. He saw theory, possibilities, and discoveries. 

To understand the heart of Oppenheimer’s work, you need to begin to wrap your head around the concept of quantum physics, the study of matter and energy at its most fundamental level, the building blocks of nature. Albert Einstein’s theories on energy are its basis. Quantum events are all around you on every scale, and the study of quantum mechanics explains phenomena found naturally, as well as developing technologies that rely on quantum effects, like integrated circuits and lasers. Have you ever wondered how the data flows into the images on your phone, tablet, or computer screen, or is it just something that you accept as a given. If you are one of the wonderers, you think like J. Robert Oppenheimer. This movie is the story of the personalities who harnessed the concepts of quantum physics to create the atomic bomb and, later, the hydrogen bomb.

There is no room for boredom during this 3-hour film, as the pace adopts a frantic countdown quality from beginning to end, encompassing discovery, philosophy, and politics. In Nolan’s signature style, he cuts the story into pieces and sews it back together like a Picasso painting. He doesn’t necessarily weave it together melodically like a symphony or a fugue, so it’s up to the audience to tie the pieces together, which for some can be disconcerting. The brilliance of Nolan is that each of these pieces of the story will imprint itself in your mind vividly. He is such a master of the visual that your eyes will perceive emotion in his cinematic “painting” of events and personalities, enriched by the extraordinary cinematography of Hoyt Van Hoytema, score by Ludwig Goransson, and the skilled editing of Jennifer Lame. Nolan uses changes in color palettes to signify differences in the timeline, and towards the end of the film, the narrative moves straight toward the climax. 

Nolan brought together an extraordinary cast with the help of veteran casting director John Papsidera. There is not enough space here to applaud all the magnificent performances in this film. Some of the greatest talents in the industry brought their “A Game.” You won’t even recognize well-known actors because they’re so absorbed into their roles. In this film, nobody is an “extra.”. Note especially the fine work of Robert Downey Jr. as “Lewis Strauss” and Rami Malek’s emphatic impact as “David Hill.” The heart of the movie is Cillian Murphy’s “Oppenheimer.” Nolan says that his eye caught the portrait of Oppenheimer on the cover of American Prometheus with his “light blue-eyed stare, very intense,” and thought, “Well, I know who could do that.” Murphy grew up in County Cork, Ireland. An “intensely private person,” he started out as a musician in a band and studied law before discovering acting. He has amassed an impressive resume of film and TV and has proven himself one of the greatest actors of our time.

This is a movie about quantum physics, history, and politics that opened to an astounding $80 million first-weekend box office. It’s a profoundly moving film that will be required viewing for future cinema and history classes and will undoubtedly be the recipient of several 2024 Oscars. Oppenheimer was painfully aware that he created a monster. The question of its necessity will never be definitively answered. 

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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