Whew! Director/writer Christopher Nolan attempted a BIG project, making a film about Robert Oppenheimer, the renowned physicist and director of the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Laboratory which developed the atomic bomb as well as his post war loss of security clearance.
Oppenheimer is portrayed as a complex and strange character. Genius for sure, but also a hard living smoker, drinker, linguist and adulterer. He may also have had an eating disorder . Reports are that he carried 115 pounds on his 5’11 frame.
The film presents the awe inspiring thought that but for the conflux of converging “fortunes” (Albert Einstein warning President Roosevelt of the possibility of Germany developing an atomic weapon; Hitler’s anti-Semitism which resulted in his dismissal of physics as a “Jewish” science; emigration of several talented scientists; Oppenheimer’s ability to organize and lead a complicated project mostly based on theoretical science and the United States’ willingness to spend over two billion dollars to develop the atomic bomb) the Germans may have well developed the bomb and Japan would have resisted invasion causing the deaths of thousands of Americans and Japanese.
Among the most startling parts of the film is the rapid creation of Los Alamos on a New Mexico desert mesa and the gathering of scientists leading up to the test firing of the first atomic device on July, 16 1945.
The detonation is unforgettable, visually and audibly.
Three weeks later, the United States’ dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then a second one on Nagasaki three days after that.
Irish actor, Cillian Murphy plays Oppenheimer. His wide apart eyes and skeletal physique make him look like a fedora wearing alien. He depicts Oppenheimer as an ethereal man conflicted by his special gifts.
The other actors give him great support.
Matt Damon portrays Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, a military man with an engineering background (he built the Pentagon) who was in charge of the Manhattan Project. He is highly intelligent, knows the inner workings of political D.C. and most importantly could manage Oppenheimer and the other scientists. Like many others in the story of The Manhattan Project, he is the right man at the right time.
Numerous talented actors playing Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller help propel the film forward Less comprehensible is Lewis Strauss, investment banker portrayed by Robert Downey who at first helps recruit then betrays Oppenheimer. At the end he resorts to unrelenting scenery chewing and slows down the pace.
The women fare the worst.
Oppenheimer meets a woman at a party and the next scene shows them engaging in sex.They are apparently both naked but it is her body that dominates the scene. Later, in the film, once again naked, they sit in armchairs and have a lengthy conversation. Is the nudity gratuitous? Cillian Murphy has given interviews in which he said the scene was “(expletive deleted) powerful”. Maybe, but the story of their relationship could just as well progressed while they were wearing clothes.
Oppenheimer has an affair with another woman, this one married. She becomes pregnant and following her divorce, they marry. She has a drinking problem and is unable to care for her children.
Oppenheimer is, in the end, a director’s film and Nolan presents
a forceful vision that strikes fear in the viewer..
It has been 78 years since the use of a nuclear bomb as a weapon of war yet their presence remain a constant and ongoing threat.
Now, more than ever, annihilation is still but an arm’s length away.