Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Written by Taylor Baker


Heavy is the head…with great power comes… and many other turns of phrase have been conjured up over the years to distill the consequences of wisdom and knowledge. Aside from that of Jesus, no story is more universal in Western culture than the myth of Prometheus. The god who is purported not only to have carved out man from the clay of earth but to have stolen fire from the gods and brought it to mankind forever changing us.

Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is a distillation of the perennial truths such phrases reference and the myth of Prometheus channeled into one of the most important men of the 20th century, J. Robert Oppenheimer for whom the film is named. Frequent Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy plays the role of Oppenheimer with tenderness, nuance, and a fun unapologetic aloofness. Too many noteworthy faces appear beside him to list them all but a few standouts are: Emily Blunt as Kitty his wife, Matt Damon as a military general, and David Krumholtz as his friend and peer Isidor Isaac.

The picture alternates between two events years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: a backroom kangaroo court in which Macon Blair’s Lloyd Garrison guides Oppenheimer through a sham hearing; and a separate senate confirmation hearing for Lewis Strauss (performed with great care by Robert Downey Jr.). In the course of these two hearings, witnesses made up mainly of scientists and military men are brought in to recall events and answer questions. 

The two hearings are labeled “Fission” and “Fusion” respectively, and within them the series of flashbacks that make up the meat of the film occur, driving the story forward and in a way mirroring the principal of waves. Ludwig Göransson’s deft use of sound queues viewers in casually to the alternations between the structure of the various complex beats Nolan and editor Lame built. With pitch-perfect contributions by Nolan’s previous collaborators on the craft team and some newcomers, every inch of every image feels meticulous.

“Oppenheimer” is distinctly about both humanity and morality, and that more than likely you can’t have the latter without the first.

“Oppenheimer” Trailer

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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