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Oppenheimer: Snoozefest or Christopher Nolan’s New Best?

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Sergio Estrada-Rubio

The moment that everyone in the theatre was waiting for had finally arrived. 

The bomb was about to explode.  

As I was sitting comfortably in my seat, I knew it was about to happen, but with the combination of the slow countdown from 10 seconds, the blaring, eerie violin soundtrack gradually intensifying, and seeing the emotion of the scientists on their face, excitement and dread, it made me feel tense and uncertain, as if I was there. 

Then as soon as the countdown hit 0, it went off, the theatre lit up white, like a flashbang, and there was dead silence.  

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The silence felt loud, and when the screen faded from orange to yellow, and black, I was in awe. That feeling of being on edge was being washed away. Now I was waiting for the loud sound of the shockwave to wash over, and then it hit like a truck, booming.  

 It was crazy how something so destructive made me stare, made me awestruck. You just had to be there to experience it. 

This was one of the many things I felt when watching Christopher Nolan’s new film, Oppenheimer. 

 

When I first heard that Christopher Nolan was releasing a new movie, I was excited, since he is one of my favorite directors for his movies like Inception and The Dark Knight 

After seeing the trailer for Oppenheimer and seeing that it was 3-hours long, I was further invested, since Nolan’s movies with long runtimes have always had me interested, and my friend and I decided that we would watch it on the day it would release. 

Going into the movie, I didn’t know much about Oppenheimer. All I really knew was that Robert Oppenheimer impacted history with the creation of a bomb, but not just any bomb, the bomb of all bombs, the atomic bomb. 

Since I didn’t know a lot about Oppenheimer, I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly. Like many people, I did think the movie would be mostly about the atomic bomb itself and how it was used. 

But like the title says, it’s more about Oppenheimer (based on the biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer), his life before and during the Manhattan Project, and his life after the use of the weapon, which many failed to realize.  

It’s not just about the bomb that was created.  

But many people think that the 3-hour drama/thriller film about the “father of the atomic bomb” is a snooze fest, while others think it is Christopher Nolan’s new best. 

I think that it was an impressive movie, however I don’t think it’s Christopher Nolan’s best. 

 

I think the overall plot was thought out brilliantly. Throughout the whole movie it mainly cycles between scenes about Oppenheimer’s life, Oppenheimer’s closed hearing for the renewal of his security clearance (1954), and Lewis Strauss’s court hearing (1958).  

The film also cycles between scenes shot in black and white, which represents Lewis Strauss’s perspective (like his court hearing), and scenes shot in color, it represents Oppenheimer’s perspective (like Oppenheimer’s life). 

Following the story in that manner was interesting, but confusing at times. 

 

When it comes to the main portion of going into the life of Oppenheimer, it showed it thoroughly. It showed how Oppenheimer had a life and wasn’t just scientist racing to build a bomb before the Nazi’s do.  

It started off with picturing how as a student, he was homesick, struggled with his physics class in Cambridge, and was upset with his teacher to the out of putting poison inside of his teacher’s apple. 

It went into things like his affair, marrying a Berkeley student and former Communist Party Member. He went from being a professor of a small class, to being the director of the project at Los Alamos, and eventually going into his more political side of his life after the end of WWII.  

Another thing that was important to the movie and made it stand out was the symbolism and extra details. I’m sure I missed a lot of hidden details/symbolism, but the main ones I found during the movie showed how the creation took a toll on its creator, and how the future of the world could be at stake. For example, at the beginning of the film this quote, along with fire, was shown on the screen, “Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.” Later on in the movie, you understand how the quote relates to Oppenheimer, because of him giving this “creation to man,” he is “punished for it” by being filled with guilt and his thoughts that make him anxious, and by some of his peers kind of turning on him. 

Throughout the movie, the cast was exceptional, and the acting showed why they were a good choice. With members like Cillian Murphy (Robert J. Oppenheimer), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss), Matt Damon (Gen. Leslie Groves), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock), Emily Blunt (Kitty Oppenheimer), and a lot more actors destroying their roles, they were able to show what these people may have been like and help set serious tone and mood for the movie. Cillian Murphy was able to pull off that stare-into-your-soul look, Robert Downey Jr. reminded that he wasn’t just Iron Man, and other actors stood out in their ways too. 

The directing was excellent, and the cinematography (cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema) and color choices combined with it well. The score (soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson) is top notch and compliments the scenes and cinematography by helping create the atmosphere. A scene that had a lot of detail with good sound and was directed skillfully was Oppenheimer’s speech in front of an audience at a gym, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The patriotic people are stomping and cheering, and it’s all extremely loud. After the applauding and whistles, everyone quiets down, Oppenheimer begins speaks and the background surrounding him starts to shake, people begin to cheer again but it suddenly stops with a haunting scream being heard in the crowd. It gets completely silent, but you can still see the people cheering. Then room transforms into Oppenheimer’s view of some effects of an aftermath of a bombing, the crowd is covered with bright, white lighting, the sound comes back hard with people cheering, and Oppenheimer see’s horrors as he walks out of the gym, showcasing a huge amount of guilt. 

The ending of the movie was a scene that really stuck with me. Oppenheimer speaks with Albert Einstein, which recalls back to a scene where they spoke and believed that detonating the bomb had a low chance of causing a chain reaction that would ignite the atmosphere, and Oppenheimer believes that they in fact “did” set a chain reaction that would cause the destruction of the world. It then cuts to small clips /cutaways that pictures the cause for a beginning of a nuclear war, goes into a clip of the earth being covered in flames and fire, and ends with a final shot of Oppenheimer’s face, staring in dread and fear. So, he believes that for his major guidance in creating the deadly device, not only did it cause deaths, but it may cause an end to the world. 

Even though this movie is admirable and has many memorable moments, I think it still has its downs. Two main things I didn’t like about Oppenheimer is the pacing, and confusion.  

Many people didn’t like the movie with the main reasons being, “they just talk” and it’s so slow, and this all ties back to the fact that the movie isn’t about the bomb since people were expecting more action, explosions, bombs being dropped, and the aftermath. I can understand where people are coming from, since I do agree that the movie is a ton of dialogue, but this dialogue is important, it was necessary and dialogue that was smooth. It explains well how the scientists and other people interacted and felt about Oppenheimer. 

The pacing in this film felt weird. It felt fast paced in the way information was being thrown at you, but also slow paced in the way some scenes just move forward. This pacing probably feels this way since not only are you focused on understanding the information, but you are also trying to understand the characters and the setting and take in the movie. This also leads into creating confusion. Confusion in Christopher Nolan’s movies isn’t new- think about Tenet and the beginning of Inception 

After the end of the film, there were still some things I didn’t understand, but it gave me a chance to dissect the movie with my friend and others. What made me confused were the vast number of characters and dialogue (subtitles would’ve helped), their accents, names, and the beginning of the scenes cycling stories. Some moments of these were when they would talk about other scientists, it would be hard to remember who was being talked about until it showed a flashback of their faces (these scientists were important). The dialogue was also hard to hear and keep up with sometimes. Trying to piece everything together while also keeping up with was happening at the moment was complicated, but near the end it makes a little more sense, and when the movie does end, you are able to put everything together a little better. However, I think the problem with confusion can solved with a rewatch with the knowledge from the initial watch. 

For these reasons, I don’t think it’s Christopher Nolan’s best movie, but I think it showcases his strengths and I understand why many others may feel that it’s his best. 

I would rank it his 4th best, but my rankings can always move around. If you were to watch this movie, which I think you should, then it should be watched at a movie theater to get the full experience, so don’t watch it on your go-to pirated website. I also don’t think you have to watch it in IMAX like Nolan says, but if you want to go to that extra mile, then go for it. 

For replay-ability, I feel like this is something you would play when your friends come over just because of length and seriousness, but I would rewatch the movie again just to understand everything. This movie also has a strong chance to win something at the Academy Awards, whether it be for one of the actors, the soundtrack, or the movie as a whole.   

When I left the theatre, I felt confused, impressed, and invested in finding out the things that I missed. I even felt a little alarmed, from that thought of nuclear war and how complicated the situation was. At first the movie was pretty good, but after really thinking back about it, it feels even better. This movie is loud, it’s quiet, it’s intense, it’s dreading, it’s informative, it has emotion and it’s thought provoking. 

 

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About the Contributor
Sergio Estrada, Reporter
My name is Sergio Estrada. I am a 11th grader. I chose to do newspaper to try something new. My goal for newspaper is to become a better writer and work with my peers.
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