Oppenheimer (2023)
July 20, 2023 7:54 AM - Subscribe

The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.
posted by cendawanita (87 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Huh, a Nolan movie I liked, probably unreservedly.
posted by cendawanita at 7:55 AM on July 20, 2023 [6 favorites]


I am going to Oppenheimer with my 70-year-old dad tomorrow. How graphic is the sex and nudity?
posted by Stuka at 10:41 AM on July 20, 2023


can't comment, my govt's censorship board would not pass those scenes by, but distributors/the board itself have gotten pretty clever with digital tech, so close cropping or panning and scanning and other tricks means the film's integrity is pretty much kept for the most part.

So someone else needs to take this one - what I can guess from what's left in the movie is that there's a couple of heterosexual intercourse scenes and one fourth-wall-breaking sequence of intercourse with a female performer topless.
posted by cendawanita at 10:57 AM on July 20, 2023


This came out before the movie was released, but maybe it will give you some guidance about what to expect.
posted by sardonyx at 12:14 PM on July 20, 2023


This article on Jezebel seems to deflate a lot of the claims from that AVClub article linked by sardonyx as being somewhat overblown. It also features very precise descriptions of all the nude scenes, so, that may be helpful in calibrating.

Anyway, I have my tickets for Saturday and I am super excited.
posted by kbanas at 12:46 PM on July 20, 2023 [3 favorites]


It’s boobs and humping which surely your dad has been exposed to before.
posted by jeoc at 7:47 PM on July 20, 2023 [12 favorites]


Thanks for that Jezebel article, kbanas; it seems to confirm the skepticism I felt at those "the Tatlock/Oppenheimer love story is an essential part of the film and Nolan's first-ever sex scenes!" articles a couple of weeks ago:

Pugh is good (when isn’t she?), but her performance is brief, somewhere between a cameo and a bit part.

I mean, I get why they'd want to hype that going up against Barbie weekend but it did seem a stretch.

Question for those who've seen the film: how's the sound for the dialogue? Is it as muddy and swamped by music as it was in Tenet? Can you understand what people are saying? Has Nolan reigned in his kinda bizarre sound-mixing choices this time?
posted by mediareport at 9:33 PM on July 20, 2023


Sound quality is very decent, not at all like Tenet (I also watched on bog standard theatre with regular Dolby system). The levels are also not insane, so even when the sequence with a lot of strings came in it wasn't a shock to my ears.
posted by cendawanita at 11:09 PM on July 20, 2023 [1 favorite]


Initial thoughts:

-Nolan’s best film since The Prestige at least. Allowing spectacle to serve story and character instead of the other way around is something he hasn’t done for a long time.

- Cillian Murphy was outstanding.

-It did NOT feel like a three-hour film.

-The actor playing Ernest Lawrence seemed really familiar and I completely failed to recognise who it was.

-It was mildly amusing to see Richard Feynman reduced to ‘guy who plays the bongos’.

-The was a bit of Memento in the colour/B&W timelines. The final scene was deftly done.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:15 AM on July 21, 2023 [10 favorites]


The actor playing Ernest Lawrence seemed really familiar and I completely failed to recognise who it was.

In the words of my older Millennial self from last night: JOSH HARTNETT???
posted by cendawanita at 1:18 AM on July 21, 2023 [11 favorites]


I saw this in IMAX and it was shockingly loud. Maybe just my theater but holy shit it was loud. Conversations were mostly audible but the sound mixing still kind of sucks.

The dialog in this movie is not great (stilted and sometimes verging into silliness), which I think is a weakness of Nolan’s. It’s especially bad for the commerce Secretary hearing scenes.

The acting is good all around but we could have done without Pugh’s character altogether. It felt like they were just trying to add some women to the cast.

I liked this more than I disliked it but it seemed weird to me as a Gen x person that another Gen x person is making a movie with the perspective of “nuclear weapons are the biggest most terrifying threat to humanity”. Esp when every newscast this week is about record heat. This person's story is compelling without that out of touch meta commentary.

One other thought - Oppenheimer’s kids were so awful. Just crying in every scene. Does Nolan hate kids or something?
posted by jeoc at 9:26 AM on July 21, 2023 [3 favorites]


One of the most memorable cinematic experiences of my life happened at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada. I wandered into a dark, empty museum theater and sat down on a bench and stared at a black screen. I hadn't read the title on the exhibit, or there wasn't one, but in any case, I didn't know what I was in for. The projection of the Trinity test footage started, the countdown, the bright flash, the silent mushroom cloud, the long delay, the sound of the explosion, the debris sweeping across the arroyo, and then fans in the theater spun up to simulate the blast. It was frightening and thrilling and shocking.

This movie has all of those moments, but I don't think it had the impact of that museum display. How could it? This movie is principally concerned with Oppenheimer's legacy, and at times it feels like an exercise in burying the lead. The most awful scientific achievement in history is in the background and we're asked to consider how one man feels about its development and use. I enjoyed the movie and there's a lot to chew on, but at times I was really puzzled about the parts of the story the camera focused on. Admiral Strauss used Oppehnheimer's history of left wing political association to push him off the the AEA? That's kind of an interesting story, and I appreciate how it contrasts Oppenheimer's brand of narcissism with Strauss's, but doesn't hold up next to the reality of the atomic weapons themselves.
posted by chrchr at 11:32 AM on July 21, 2023 [6 favorites]


TBH, I wasn't impressed. Very much less than the sum of its parts. A lot of great effort is wasted in another Nolan clunker. And I'm not sure what Nolan is trying to say. The story of J. Robert Oppenheimer? All glory is fleeting? Nuclear weapons are bad, m'kay?
posted by Stuka at 4:44 PM on July 21, 2023 [6 favorites]


I think it was a masterpiece and am quite surprised how luke warm the responses are here. Saw it on IMAX and was completely engrossed and the 3 hours flew by. It was loud but the loudness didnt feel gratuitous and the dialog was super clear. And I actually loved Pugh's part and felt it added a lot to the plot. The scene with them sitting opposite each other naked while talking was one of my favorite parts. Their relationship reminded me of one of mine, where the love was deep but the timing/alignment just didnt work. This review encapsulated a lot of my feelings.
posted by lips at 8:25 PM on July 21, 2023 [14 favorites]


One other thought - Oppenheimer’s kids were so awful. Just crying in every scene. Does Nolan hate kids or something?

Fwiw I found that to be a stylistic narrative choice to make explicit the burden of the domestic sphere falling completely on Kitty - more than his previous works, I felt he's more cognizant of the gendered norms running through the sort of stories he likes, but it could also be because it was in the history of this couple, that she dealt with post-partum depression/malaise? (Idk, someone else who's read American Prometheus might have better knowledge) if that was an invention or otherwise, historically that was an established generational burden for the post-war women of that era.
posted by cendawanita at 5:36 AM on July 22, 2023 [10 favorites]


The focus of an Oppenheimer biopic should certainly be Oppenheimer but there are so many side stories that would merit their own telling if this were a miniseries. In addition to Einstein and Feynman and the whole shifting impact on research science's focus, two other areas I've been reminded of are the local NM population who lost their land and health to this (see Loyda Martinez's lifelong efforts on this. among others) and long term health impact/cancer risk on the military and scientific and local communities at NM, other test site communities, and of course Japan (start with James Neel for his genetics work in this area, though there are many others)
posted by beaning at 11:08 AM on July 22, 2023 [7 favorites]


I really enjoyed this, I have a rubbish attention span and didn’t mind the 3 hour run time at all. Cillian Murphy was spectacular, shame it was such a sausage fest but such was the era/setting. This was one of my favourite Christopher Nolan films.

Some parts were too loud for me as someone who suffers from migraines and I had my fingers in my ears a couple of times but I didn’t need the earplugs I always take to the cinema.

Who’s Who in Oppenheimer: A Guide to 36 Scientists, Soldiers, and Reds [Vulture / Archive]
posted by ellieBOA at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2023 [5 favorites]


I spent a long time with anxiety about this film. I wavered on waiting to see it, ripping the bandaid off, or ignoring it altogether. I finally settled on seeing it last night.

Like chrchr, I'd also seen that exhibit at the Atomic Museum. It's terrible and incredible and in hindsight I shouldn't have done it. One of my earliest memories was looking through a book on photojournalism and the absolute horror I felt seeing the Bikini Atoll detonation photograph. And it didn't help growing up in Nevada, where there is a strange pride of all of the bombs they set off, just 65 miles away from Vegas. My worst wake-up-screaming nightmares all feature mushroom clouds. When I am in planes or large cities, I always have a moment where I can see clearly what it would look like if one went off. It's been this way for me for decades and I feel lucky that it's not something that keeps me from living life. But it's there.

I went in with deep panic of watching the detonation scene with a sprinkling of hope that seeing the process of building the bomb would help me separate the fear from the science. Leading up to the scene I was as nervous as I've ever been in a movie theater.

I first want to write Nolan a thank you letter for the way the big scene is filmed. It is not some Terminator 2 version that I was expecting. It's clear he needed it on 70mm to express the magnitude and not the oooh cool, explosion factor that I think does a disservice in the marketing. Although there is something great that he's bringing millions to the cinema this weekend and many might be expecting something between Interstellar and Inception levels of "cool" and instead are getting a biopic. The total absence of the cloud itself in any scene after the detonation was a powerful choice.

Secondly, I found solace in after Trinity, Oppenheimer (even if it's only Nolan's version of him) seemed to suffer the exact same fears I've had my whole life. And I only saw photos and films, so I'd imagine his "visions" were even worse. I was an 80's kid. I had no connection to WWII when my fear started, and by that time Hollywood was quick to make explosions bigger and better for entertainment. It diminished my fear, just a little, knowing at least one other person on the planet understood what atomic/nuclear annihilation looked like and it bothered them.

I know others have a lot to say on the scenes, the run time, etc. etc., but personally, I needed to see this film and I am glad it exists.

FWIW, the sound in my theater was just fine, but I saw it only on 70mm in an independent theater, not Imax.
posted by haplesschild at 12:31 PM on July 22, 2023 [7 favorites]


It was ridiculously, seat-rumblingly loud in parts, in the IMAX theater where I saw it today, but I'm sure that was the intent. Unlike Tenet, I thought the sound was mixed well and dialogue was clear.

The line about bringing the sheets inside was never explained, but upon doing some digging, apparently that's a reference to how the sheets hung outside would get covered in ash during the various tests.
posted by emelenjr at 10:47 PM on July 22, 2023


This was astonishing. The three hours flew by. It was star-studded to the nth degree - deploying A-list actors in tiny roles to afford them the power those people needed. Giving lots of "that guy" actors other supporting roles. Perhaps wasting Florence Pugh but absolutely sending Emily Blunt in to land some epic dramatic punches in the almost thankless wife role.

And seeing Robert Downey Jnr act in a film again? Getting some pre-Iron Man RDJ back on the big screen and absolutely tearing things up. Fuck, he was great. I missed when he was great.

Nolan directs the hell out of this film and it's almost unbearable from the tension and the drama and the absolute disgust he made me feel of these men. And that final scene was a punch in the guts. (Nolan knows how to end a movie, yes he does.)
posted by crossoverman at 11:52 PM on July 22, 2023 [5 favorites]


Immediately after coming out from seeing this I overheard someone say that it was "just kind of there, y'know - okay". Which I loved, since it just goes to show how utterly subjective one's experience of art is. But also - what? how? Like those above who also liked the film, Oppenheimer didn't feel long at all and I'm finding it provocative and stimulating on a number of fronts – along most of which my thoughts are inchoate and possibly incoherent. For example, I'd be interested to know how many of the physics analogies that are currently pinging about my brain, like neutrons amongst the neurons, are intended - the implosion of Oppenheimer's career, his seeming duality of belief about atomic weapons, chain reactions of ideas and actions, the leaks of secrets like errant radiation from a reactor. Maybe I need to get out more...

It also made me think again about how extraordinary the landscape of the inter-war physics was (and perhaps , and how maybe the idea of that kind of freedom of thought and the brilliant arseholes what thunk it has curdled into the way that e.g. techbros see themselves. As a once-wannabe physicist myself, it's certainly what I wanted to be involved in, but it's undoubtedly a rare conflux of progress on multiple fronts and change in society that doesn't happen often (and certainly not by wishing it into existence), and that it's just not the way things usually work. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

BTW, the 'meh' person also said that it had more similarities with Elvis than you might think. I have no idea what to do with this comparison, not having seen the latter, other than they're both ostensibly biopics?
posted by sarble at 9:09 AM on July 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


Just checking in to say that my daughter and I did the Barbenheimer doubleheader yesterday and it was fabulous.
We saw Oppy first and were blown away by the in-theater experience. Others have commented on the volume already, but i'd further like to add that I thought that the rumbly loud bits were perfectly placed for effect and I feel sorry for those not able to experience the film in theater because the sound is practically a character in this film.
The star studded cast was almost a distraction, but the performances were generally great and no one tried to chew scenery.
I thought the dialogue was solid and especially liked the scene between Roger Robb and Kitty. At first it seemed that she would crumble under the pressure, but then, when she stuck to her guns and turned it back on him, her character, so maligned by the film to this point, made a lovely pivot.
Ditto for the Stross' aide after the Hill testimony in the senate. The interplay of those scenes made the third act , imo.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2023 [3 favorites]


Haplesschild, I was going to ask about the Bomb Blowing Up bit - I also have MAAAAAAAJOR anxiety about that visual (I had recurring vivid dreams about nuclear war as a teenager, and that scene in T2 made me TOTALLY flip my shit), and I was going to ask about that...if I understand you, I think I can handle it after all.

...You have also all tipped me off that I should never under any circumstances ever visit the Atomic Museum.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:35 PM on July 23, 2023 [5 favorites]


An extended interview with Christopher Nolan, director of Oppenheimer [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists / via]
posted by ellieBOA at 6:39 PM on July 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


“BTW, the 'meh' person also said that it had more similarities with Elvis than you might think. I have no idea what to do with this comparison, not having seen the latter, other than they're both ostensibly biopics?“

My friend said something similar, in her case she was referring to how she wished the fantastic performance at the center of the movie was in a better film.

I was a bit disappointed. Cillian Murphy is wonderful and its a fascinating story, but it’s thuddingly obvious and unsubtle and I flat out don’t understand some of Christopher Nolan’s instincts as a storyteller.
posted by cakelite at 8:26 PM on July 23, 2023 [7 favorites]


I saw it today and I was pretty engrossed as well. I didn't notice 3 hours passing at all. However my sound mix was pretty bad. I get that Nolan likes to undercut long expository scenes with pretty involved music to underline the tone but MAN did some of that music get way too busy.

---

The line about bringing the sheets inside was never explained, but upon doing some digging, apparently that's a reference to how the sheets hung outside would get covered in ash during the various tests.

I took it as a code phrase between Oppenheimer and Kitty. Opp says to bring them in when the Trinity test was successful. Maybe because he wasn't allowed to tell civilians? There's also a practical reason like you noticed - the sheets would get covered in radioactive fallout. (archive link)

The second time he uses the phrase is when the Gray commission denies his clearance. He tells Kitty to leave the sheets out. Now he's using it as code that something wasn't successful.

---

Overthinking things over on the way home, I keep going back to the use of the famous Bhagavad Gita line ("Now I am become death...") and it's use in the early sex scene with Tatlock. So you hear it a second time when Trinity goes off, of course, but up until that point it was quiet except for breathing. The explosion noise cuts in right after the line. Was Nolan trying to equate the explosion....with an orgasm?

Nah.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:54 PM on July 23, 2023 [2 favorites]


I'm also going to be a party pooper here and say the film was sufficiently fine in 35mm normal viewing format.

I concur with Haplesschild, wondering if audiences expected some kind of 2001 and/or Interstellar type of moviegoing experience which is not what this movie delivered.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:13 PM on July 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


I was so excited for this movie (love most of Nolan’s other films, love Cillian Murphy) and found it to be painfully obvious and straightforward and dull—I couldn’t wait for it to end. It was never “bad” and many of the performances were quite good, as was the production design and cinematography, but it never really interested or surprised me or did anything that felt “new” with the material in the way that I was hoping for from Nolan. Also I literally laughed out loud in the theater at the sex scene with Pugh.
posted by raisindebt at 12:50 PM on July 24, 2023 [6 favorites]


I am not usually a fan of Nolan's hyper aggressive sound design but in this case it felt justified and extremely effective, especially in the choices made with the Trinity test and afterwards. Whatever acoustic magic caused the sonic slap in the face during Oppenheimer's "victory" speech was spectacular (not pleasant, maybe, but incredible).

As they were climbing the tower at Trinity I had a sudden intense flashback to "me" climbing that tower and it hit me how closely the movie's tone parallels Infocom's Trinity. Nolan is exactly the right age/demographic, I wonder if he played it too...
posted by range at 6:03 PM on July 25, 2023 [4 favorites]


What struck me is how they didn't shy away from including, and expecting the audience to keep track of, a very large number of scientists.

Einstein is an audience-pleaser, and Teller is essential to the security clearance / H-bomb framing story, but Rabi or Bethe were never household names despite their importance in physics. And yes, Feynman as background bongo guy was a little treat for the real heads.
posted by atrazine at 5:54 AM on July 26, 2023 [7 favorites]


I just saw it last night. When it was good I thought it was very good and when it wasn't so good it was still pretty good. The dialog was a little hard to hear at times and the loud bits were very loud. The theater I was in had such rumbly bass that my chair was shaking during the explody bits.

Cillian Murphy was good. Matt (Groves) Damon was good. Robert (Strauss) Downey Jr. was extremely good (I didn't recognize him at first). Benny Safdie made me loathe Teller. Gary Oldman continues his nearly unbroken streak of appearing in movies and me not recognizing him. I wish the women had something more to do than be either an alcoholic shrew or a fuck-buddy, but I guess It's Not That Kind Of Story.

I was ready for the movie to end at about 2 hours and 30 minutes and I think a little bit more editing might have helped, but it's one of the shortest 3 hour movies I've seen (the shortest was Return of the King), so it wasn't too bad.

I felt that Strauss' hatred of Oppenheimer wasn't fully fleshed out. It seemed to be covered mostly in flashbacks and fairly vague claims of Oppenheimer turning scientists against Strauss. This is not some irrelevant detail. Maybe bits were left on the cutting room floor. RDJr was good, though. Damn.

It's left sort of vague as to whether Oppenheimer was (or even whether Nolan thought he was) a communist or sympathetic to communist ideas or just liked having sex with communist gals. I recognize that he's apolitical in some things and his views undergo a shift and so on, but I feel that a biopic needs a point of view and to make a statement of what this person is about, and I didn't get that here.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:05 AM on July 26, 2023 [3 favorites]


I have a physics degree (did some undergraduate research at Los Alamos) and have been a pretty big a-bomb nerd my whole adult life. I've read about 95% of American Prometheus. I'm not a big lover of modern cinema and have little familiarity with Nolan. I have a short attention span.

The movie was riveting. It was scientifically and historically accurate (although I've yet to encounter David Hill in the book and I would've liked to see more of Oppy's upbringing and college years). I saw it in IMAX and it was dangerously loud as I had expected. These earplugs worked great.

Thanks for the link to the infocom game. I don't recall ever being aware of it, even though I have a drawer full of Infocom games.

If you read one book about the Manhatten Project it should be Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb. It's the best overview of atomic physics for nonscientists.
posted by neuron at 9:09 AM on July 26, 2023 [9 favorites]


Robert (Strauss) Downey Jr. was extremely good (I didn't recognize him at first).

Same here! What a performance. I kept thinking it was some other actor, like maybe Stanley Tucci, but wow when got to the credits I was blown away.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:49 AM on July 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


I forgot to mention that I went with my 15 year old who also found it riveting despite being at its core something that could have been a play. In what I take as a positive sign for the future of cinema they were BLOWN AWAY that:

1. Robert Downey Jr can act (only before seen in the MCU)
2. Directing and cinematography can have a personality and voice. This one amazed me - to me it validated a lot of cinemaphile criticism of the last couple decades but helped me feel that all is not lost (or homogeneous or boring)

Also, Isidor Rabi is my "physics grandpa" and I was giddy seeing him portrayed so well on screen. My own advisor (Rabi's student) was a nuclear physicist who was a vocal and prolific anti-nuke activist and it was cool seeing some of that get its start in Rabi.
posted by range at 2:33 PM on July 26, 2023 [6 favorites]


I think this was a very bad movie. Maybe a good film, a good example of artistic cinema. What I saw was clearly the work of an expert, someone who is able to create compelling imagery and derive absolutely believable performances from his cast. But damned if I can tell you what it was about. There was no story. Nobody starts off in one place, and ends up in another. Nobody's any different at the end of the movie than they were at the beginning. A lot of things happen--and, obviously, world-historical things--and they don't seem to have any weight at all. There's no change. The biggest thing in the world that ever happened--maybe the thing that ends everything--and while it's treated with a sort of visual reverence, nobody on the screen seems truly moved. There are gestures toward that movement: Brief blinding flashes, as Oppenheimer begins to grasp with the devil he's unleashed. But we don't see it affect him, we don't see it change him, we only see him talking about it having changed him, or maybe see other people talking about it having changed him. We don't experience that change with him. We have plot twists--aha, Strauss is the villain--and...well...so what? We don't feel it. It's just something to make us feel like it's a story. We thought one thing was happening, but it was really something else. Does that count as a story? Does Schrodinger's cat have a biography?

Nolan is so bad at this. I mean, yes, he's acclaimed, everyone loves his work, fine, I'm not saying anyone shouldn't love this or any other movie he's made. But why make a biographical film if you're not going to allow the audience to experience a character's life? Why keep everything so distant, so abstract, so impressionistic? It's not just the emotions that are at arm's length; the science is too. Science is a few scratches on a blackboard, and a lot of vintage dials and knobs. These guys were discovering the fundamental nature of the world, the most exciting science to ever exist, and the film doesn't care. It will name-drop physicists at a rate of one scientist per second, but it will not for one moment allow you to know what's so gripping about what they're finding out.

So what can you do with it? It's a biographical film that doesn't care about people, a scientific film that ignores science, a historical picture that isn't very engaged with history. What is it? What's it for? It's like trying to listen in to a conversation happening in another room.

Since there was nothing else to do, I found myself looking at my watch. "I bet the bomb goes off two hours in," I said to myself, and waited, and waited, and sure enough, right around the two hour mark, it detonated. "Well, that's structurally sound I guess." It's strange, because on the one hand I was never really bored during those three hours...but on the other, I've never looked at my watch so many times during a movie.
posted by mittens at 3:42 PM on July 26, 2023 [15 favorites]


I don't think the main job of the movie was to explore how everyone reacted to the bomb. It was that, given the bomb, how do all the people who want to direct its use play off each other? One main conflict in the movie was scientist vs. military (and politician). It was a tragedy for Oppenheimer, who thought the scientists and military would just get along because they had to, like the US and USSR post-war.

There was no new fundamental science in the Manhattan Project. It was basically an engineering problem, as shown as they consider an imploding bomb or shooting a uranium pellet to obtain critical mass. The fundamental science in the movie was Oppenheimer's model of black holes (which hadn't actually been named at the time!) before the war.

I don't think a deep dive into the theory of fission would have been helpful, but I did appreciate the Oppenheimer-Lawrence interaction where the fallibility of theory in the face of experiment is shown. It comes back in the dramatization of the possibility the Trinity test could blow off the atmosphere--what do you expect from theory alone? And that intersected with the theme too, Oppenheimer's naive theories of human interaction foundered when put to the test.
posted by Schmucko at 5:57 PM on July 26, 2023 [1 favorite]


The biggest thing in the world that ever happened--maybe the thing that ends everything--and while it's treated with a sort of visual reverence, nobody on the screen seems truly moved.

As someone who generally liked the film (though i definitely don't think everyone else needs to!) I think this weirdly brushes against one of the things about it I really appreciated, which was the examination of what it's like to be living just within the gravitational force of history. To me, the pivotal scene was less the test than the bomb being unceremoniously trundled out of Los Alamos afterwards by the military.

And the journey for Oppenheimer (the character, I don't know enough about the history to say how well this stands up) was less about his opinions or his emotions than it was about his painfully learning (see the conversations with Truman and Einstein) that while his life story was irrevocably centered around the bomb and what it wrought, the story of the bomb was neither about nor determined by him.
posted by eponym at 7:38 PM on July 26, 2023 [7 favorites]


I just saw it. I was with a movie meetup group, and it was me (a Gen-xer) and a bunch of young Millennials.

I bowed out of joining them all for dinner after and came to a bar on my block for a drink. I had to cover my eyes in a couple places - some imagery is the stuff I had nightmares about for a third of my life.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 PM on July 26, 2023


It's left sort of vague as to whether Oppenheimer was (or even whether Nolan thought he was) a communist or sympathetic to communist ideas or just liked having sex with communist gals. I recognize that he's apolitical in some things and his views undergo a shift and so on, but I feel that a biopic needs a point of view and to make a statement of what this person is about, and I didn't get that here.

I guess but isn't his inscrutability part of who he is? There's people who knew him for decades who were genuinely never quite sure exactly what his politics were. I think the POV that Nolan took was that genuinely committing himself to any kind of political movement was simply not something that Oppenheimer was even capable of doing, let alone willing to do voluntarily.

It's a biopic about someone who has to struggle, not really successfully in the end, with the idea of not being the main character in the universe and that is hard story to tell in a film where, of course, he actually is the main character.
posted by atrazine at 8:29 AM on July 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


Okay - I have now seen more than one read which speaks to Oppenheimer and his ego, so I have to ask- why?

Because I totally got a different read. My take was that he was genius at science, but HOPELESSLY bad at human nature. He was completely naive and much too trusting of the non scientists he was working with.

At least that was my take, I didn't see an ego trip at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:47 AM on July 27, 2023


I think his ego is what turned both Strauss against him, as well as the second president (who called him a crybaby when he tried to take credit/responsibility for the bomb). He also wasn't that bad at human nature, since he inspired so many of the scientists to follow him to New Mexico, he must have had at least some leadership skills. The ego might also have been a part of why he took the assignment in the first place.

Just saw it, and really enjoyed it! For me, it was a piece of history coming alive and kind of feels topical given the themes of 'end of the world as we know it' - it reminded me of the people currently racing to create AI systems while at the same time warning us that they might destroy us.

Whether it's because of living in Europe, or I'm the wrong age (30s), I've never really given atom bombs a lot of thought. Some people upthread are much better informed, and seem to fear them. Perhaps it's good that this film reminds slightly younger people as well. It's kind of the opposite to climate change, where it always seems older generations (in general!) don't feel enough urgency. Maybe it's just not possible as a society to be extremely worried about a thing for decades.

While I liked the film in general, I would have liked less of the political intrigue at the end, in favor of more of the women's stories. A lot of them, including Oppenheimers wife, were scientists themselves, and were very frustrated after marriage. Even when they were allowed to do research and made major contributions, they did not get the nobel prizes - in Physics, just two women have been awarded last century, and two this century. But that's probably for another film by another director.
posted by kwartel at 4:39 PM on July 27, 2023


They do acknowledge the consequences, and in a way that actually still came close to triggering me a bit...there's a very brief shot at one point where Oppenheimer is in a room of people in a meeting discussing the aftermath of the bomb; a speaker is discussing the reports of radiation sickness, and the ever-increasing death rate. But the camera is panning back to where Oppenheimer is sitting in the crowd, and films his reaction as the speaker goes on. And there are a couple scenes where Oppenheimer gets sort of "visions" of things at moments - in a scene following the bomb drop when he's giving a speech to a cheering group at Los Alamos, he starts imagining the cheering people all developing huge facial burns or burning up, as if they were blast victims, or seeing images of mushroom clouds or other fireballs; or when he discusses the bomb with someone else a couple times he imagines missiles going off or more firestorm images.

It kind of goes with earlier "Oppie-visions" of spinning atoms or other atomic or quantum-level imagery before that in the movie; and that's actually one of the reasons I wasn't seeing the "ego trip" stuff others were. The movie sets him up as someone who's a little caught up in the pure "science!" of everything; in a scene when Oppenheimer is just a student, he meets Niels Bohr, and during their conversation he admits he's not good at math. "Algebra is like sheet music," Bohr says. "People who can't read music can still hear it. Can you hear it?" And Oppenheimer says "oh, yes." So that's what made this a tragic story for me - there may have been some ego going on, but I think he was even more seduced by the pursuit of "I want to know EVERYTHING about what these things do." And he's given an opportunity to pursue this exploration, and figuring out this puzzle about his favorite thing to think about; but then when he succeeds then he learns that "oh. Oh no. Oh, I went too far and can't control it, and oh no the government's stopped listening to my advice..."

And that's when his "visions" switch from the purely-theoretical dance-of-atoms stuff to the future-forecasting of arms race and nuclear holocaust.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:16 AM on July 28, 2023 [4 favorites]


So Christopher Nolan famously likes to avoid CGI and use practical effects where he can, e.g. for the nuclear explosion. He'll use CGI to clean up practical shots, but hates using CGI to create the while thing.

Someone was criticizing Dunkirk for that: without CGI you can't can't really see the vast numbers of ships and planes and men engaged in such a vast operation.

I think that's probably what's behind the lack of visuals of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are lurid verbal descriptions, and the dream/hallucination sequences. But I don't think you could capture the horror of the actual events without CGI.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:19 AM on July 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


Saw it last night as the second half of my Barbenheimer, and I'm in the "Best thing of Nolan's that I've seen in years" camp; great performances both from the main actors and the unexpected ones ("Is that... James Remar? And Jack Quaid is playing Feynman?"); some repeat castings from other Nolan movies--Cilian Murphy, of course, but also David Dastmalchian, who was in The Dark Knight. It took me a bit of time to piece together what the framing plot was all about; I got that his not-a-trial persecution was sometime during the Commie witch-hunt era, but didn't get why we were spending so much time with Strauss until very late in the film, which seems to have been intentional on Nolan's part. (Looking at his Wikipedia article, he is somewhat less of a villain than the movie makes him out to be; he was part of a number of efforts to get Jews out of Germany, even though American anti-semitism blocked them.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2023


The One Thing Missing From the Oppenheimer Movie Score [Vulture / Archive]
posted by ellieBOA at 9:10 AM on July 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


I have now become an Old who has great difficulty distinguishing between all the Talented Young People making movies, and I used to attend the cinema far more frequently than nowadays; but I have seen Following, Interstellar and Dunkirk. And last year I read The Making of the Atomic Bomb so I was psyched for this picture, not put off by the large cast, and I could identify a lot of the players because of this book.

Count me among the disappointed. Oh, it told the story, I guess; no complaint with it visually; but I was expecting a lot more (than the zero offered) about Oppenheimer's youth. Seemed like the focus of this film shifted to this Strauss character. For somebody who only rates a few pages in Rhodes' book, he sure is on screen a lot, here.
posted by Rash at 4:01 PM on July 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


Really loved most of it, excellent performances all round. Only thing for me really is that it took quite a while for me to understand the workings of what was happening in the whole Strauss thing. And eventually, even once I understood, and Strauss's true motivations were revealed, there then came a point where the interrogation scenes just kept going and going, beyond what I felt necessary. Like, ok, we get it now, wrap this up already? (Though honestly I still couldn't fully explain to anyone who exactly Strauss is and the full timeline of what happened - I got enough of it to be able to understand the historical context and importance.)

But everything to do with the making of "the gadget" and the actual Trinity sequence itself were just excellent.
posted by dnash at 10:09 PM on July 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


Mod note: One removed. Please don't comment if you haven't seen the film (read the book, watched the show, etc.); It forces others to explain what was actually in the content in order to respond or engage, and Fanfare operates on the assumption that participants have that info already.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:15 AM on July 29, 2023 [2 favorites]


Matt (Groves) Damon was good. Robert (Strauss) Downey Jr. was extremely good (I didn't recognize him at first).

Wait that wasn't Jesse Plemons??
posted by Pryde at 6:29 AM on July 29, 2023 [1 favorite]


How Cillian Murphy Found His ‘Resting Physicist’s Face’ [Vulture / Archive]
posted by ellieBOA at 11:14 AM on July 29, 2023


Who’s Who in Oppenheimer: A Guide to 36 Scientists, Soldiers, and Reds [Vulture / Archive]

Hmm, the article writer seems to have mixed up fission and fusion in the Teller and Bethe bios:

Edward Teller had some professional animosity with Oppenheimer over what kind of weapons to prioritize at the Manhattan Project, favoring his idea for a fission-type weapon, rather than the fusion-type weapon which was eventually used. (Teller referred to the former as “the Super.”)
[...]
Bethe had been friends with Edward Teller for several years, but they had numerous major disagreements while working under Oppenheimer over what kind of weapon to approach, leading to the de-prioritizing of Teller’s idea for a fission device, “the Super.”

("The Super" is actually the fusion one, aka the hydrogen or H-bomb.)
posted by Pryde at 1:11 PM on July 29, 2023 [1 favorite]


I loved it. I found the direction masterful, with a few moments that were simply sublime. Murphy surpassed his usual brilliant self. The movie was dense, with a lot of characters and plotlines and levels of consciousness, but it didn’t drag at any point. Refreshingly adult. It hit you with a lot without too much exposition, trusting you to figure it out as you went along. Three hours, but a brisk pace.

The relationship to the source book is minimal, but who cares? The book and the movie are doing different things.

The audience was rapt the entire time.

For me, there were some moments equal to David Lean or Scorsese that are imprinted in my brain forever — it’s that good.
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:33 PM on July 29, 2023 [2 favorites]


Also, Isidor Rabi is my "physics grandpa" and I was giddy seeing him portrayed so well on screen. My own advisor (Rabi's student) was a nuclear physicist who was a vocal and prolific anti-nuke activist and it was cool seeing some of that get its start in Rabi.

I was reading about Rabi after the film, I didn’t realize he’d won a Nobel for his work on NMR. That side note has a certain thematic resonance - think about how important that has turned out to be, in physical science and in medicine! But it doesn’t get your name in the history books quite like building the Bomb.
posted by atoxyl at 11:11 PM on July 29, 2023


[Robert] Downey Jr. was extremely good (I didn't recognize him at first)
Gary Oldman continues his nearly unbroken streak of appearing in movies and me not recognizing him.


YES- both! When I finally placed Downey I gained even more respect for his acting. Wow. Nver saw Oldman; read it afterwards and just... SMH.

I recognized the excellent David Krumholtz way too late (who after all those seasons writing on blackboards in NUMB3RS probably felt he'd come as full-circle as he possibly could).

And when Josh Peck came on screen I lost my shizz.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:34 AM on July 31, 2023


>What I saw was clearly the work of an expert, someone who is able to create compelling imagery and derive absolutely believable performances from his cast. But damned if I can tell you what it was about. There was no story.

Yessss I agree with this comment so much. I have rarely been this confused about whether I watched something very bad or very good when I left the theater - I think INCEPTION was the last time this happened to me, lol, and there, too, I took a couple of days to realize it was an empty, meaningless movie made extremely skillfully, beautifully. Same here.

It feels so frustrating because there are genuine apects of greatness here. But ultimately, this struck me as being all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Why was Strauss even in this movie? RDJ was excellent, don't get me wrong, and a delight to watch. But what was even the point of that storyline and that character? There would have been no diminishment if this had been the story of a bunch of giddy, naive, ambitious scientists working for as well as against the military, McCarthyism, and their own monstrousness, with only each other and their petty squabbles to lean on.

In fact it is the addition of the Strauss storyline that diminishes the whole. For some unfathomable reason it is the framing device and the big twist, like, what??? Who even is this main villain whose impact on the main character is never shown on screen? Wikipedia has a short writeup about the significance of the security hearing to Oppenheimer's life, and those short paragraphs provide a greater sense of the context and personal meaning than the movie did.

It also seems unconscionable, given Oppenheimer's supposed woes of the conscience, not to ever show the destruction actually wrought on Japan. That was too coy for my liking, bordering on disrespectful.

But then again, I am absolutely in love with the sound design and the visuals of this movie, and I really how both of these were elevated as storytelling devices. The casting was similarly spectacularf - I'm in love with every actor I saw on screen and that was Gary Oldman are you freaking kidding me?!?! I would have loved to see more of the scientists but what we got of the physics discussions was great great great. Oh but this movie was so wonderful in so many ways! I so wish they had kept their narrative more focused.
posted by MiraK at 8:15 PM on August 1, 2023 [5 favorites]


So I saw it on IMAX film. I enjoyed it.

Still thinking about the movie itself, so I haven’t much to say yet.

Other than that those stairs going up to the Berkeley physics building are still the same stairs. I was a physics grad student there once upon a time and I evidently have emotions about the damn stairs. (They renamed one of the buildings though; used to be Leconte but turns out they were a little on the white supremacist side so no more.)

Also I’m now going to use “resting physicist face” to describe my blank expression.

Oh and last, not at all about the actual movie— but a completely unexpected side effect of seeing the movie on IMAX film is that there were no ads. No stupid noisy bullshit crap from the theater itself, and no trailers either.
It was fabulous. The grating awfulness of the theater’s “we’ve trapped you haha listen to our dumb ads and dumber pre movie entertainment” was blissfully magically absent.
posted by nat at 11:46 PM on August 1, 2023 [1 favorite]


Really making the cinematic experience difficult for me nowadays, nat. I used to love the previews but now I hang around the open door at the multiplex, waiting for the Boom-Boom-Boom of the trailers to finally end so I can go in, claim my seat and see the movie. And this time, there was 20 minutes of this crap (including some student-produced short?) before a THREE HOUR MOVIE? I'll take a Hollywood industry screening any time - no concession (so nobody eating around me) and no previews - just show the flick. Please.

Anyway, speaking of sound design, I give major kudos to 'Oppenheimer' for getting the early thunderstorm's lightening flash-delay-thunder sequence right - it's almost always incorrectly simultaneous, in movies. (Of course, in THIS movie, that aspect of physics (Light travels faster than Sound) is demonstrated in a much more obvious and significant way, which I believe Nolan exaggerated, for emphasis.
posted by Rash at 7:12 AM on August 2, 2023


One ad that I was happy to see was for the second half of Dune. I missed the first half when it was in the theaters and had to watch it at home. I will watch Fit The Second in the theater. So, that's

nat, those stairs also gave me the feels. I wasn't a physics major, but took some classes there and I remember that part of the campus well. I did not know that they'd removed his name from the building.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:57 AM on August 2, 2023


It also seems unconscionable, given Oppenheimer's supposed woes of the conscience, not to ever show the destruction actually wrought on Japan. That was too coy for my liking, bordering on disrespectful.

I actually really liked the way they showed Oppenheimer watching a presentation on the damage. Keeping the audience focused on Oppenheimer actively avoiding engaging with the damage by looking away, but then having flickers of him seeing skin peeling from faces or burnt bodies on the floor worked well for me.
posted by knapah at 2:00 PM on August 2, 2023


It also felt to me that the delay between visual blast and audio blast was long. But at ten miles away that delay should be almost 47 seconds, which is actually a long time for silence. So maybe it’s about right?
posted by nat at 11:07 PM on August 2, 2023


It reminds me of a thing from Harpo Marx's autobiography "Harpo Speaks":
The day I got back I took a suite in a hotel on Central Park West, dumped my loot there, and went with Woollcott to have dinner with as many of the mob as he could round up. Waiting for us in the restaurant were Adams, Broun, Benchley and Dorothy Parker. A little later George Kaufman came in. He was carrying a newspaper clipping and he had a mean and sour look about him.

When I started to greet him, Kaufman put a finger to his lips and shushed me. He sat down, laid the clipping on the table, swatted it with the flat of his hand, and took out his watch. I could only see the headline on the story:

HARPO MARX SCORES BIG HIT IN MOSCOW
First American Popular Artist to Entertain Soviets Receives Ten-Minute Standing Ovation


Every time I tried to speak, Kaufman shook his head and held up a hand to stop me. Otherwise he sat perfectly still, glowering at his watch. The others were as puzzled as I, and the table went quiet. The waiter brought drinks. Woollcott told him we weren't ready to order yet Time passed. The waiter came back. Woollcott said we still weren't ready. Kaufman hadn't moved. I said, "George—" He silenced me with his hand. Around us, other diners finished eating and left, and new customers took their places. Kaufman was still in a trance, as if he was hypnotized by his watch.

After what seemed like an hour he put the watch in his pocket, turned to me and said, "That was ten minutes, Marx. The Russians applauded you for ten minutes, eh?" He snorted, took the clipping, got up from the table, and left the restaurant.

It was gratifying to see that my friends were so proud of my newest success.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:19 AM on August 3, 2023 [6 favorites]


I think the POV that Nolan took was that genuinely committing himself to any kind of political movement was simply not something that Oppenheimer was even capable of doing, let alone willing to do voluntarily.

I wonder if it's my activist background coming in here, but I took such, such different reads from the movie!

It seemed to me that Nolan was trying to say things about how fear and desire for power disconnect you from genuineness and the person that you could have been. So Oppenheimer was genuinely in love with Tatlock, but when Kitty got pregnant (apparently, per history, deliberately for just this result) he committed to her, even though she wasn't the woman he was actually in love with. Because that's what a person in that society did, who wanted to be a respected person in that society, whether or not he actually wanted to do it. And the marriage didn't go well, because marriages rarely go well when one person only kind of wants to be there. And he still loved Tatlock, (history says he saw her twice a year) and saw her. Nolan also flirts with both theories of how Tatlock died, both of which are at least partially Oppenheimer's fault - whether he gave her up so that he could keep working on the atomic project (which demonstrates the idea that Oppenheimer did have genuine commitment - in the Spanish Civil War, to unions, but that he was easily attracted by the idea that only he could save things) - or whether she was murdered by the FBI/CIA because she was an openly communist influence on Oppenheimer (Nolan's shot of the hands pushing her down here was chilling). Either way, it shows that Oppenheimer lost something and he lost an influence that could have helped keep him grounded.

It's why I found the linking of the Bhagavat Vita to the destruction and the sex to be actually more interesting than just 'an explosion' - to me, it was a reflection on what happened and the path he had chosen to go down, on what he had given up and destroyed in the pursuit, and a wonderment, is it worth it? Is it truly worth it? And perhaps a moment of awareness that had he stayed with Tatlock - been willing to accept a relationship on her terms - it might not have happened.

And from the review linked above:
The film speaks quite often of one of the principles of quantum physics, which holds that observing quantum phenomena by a detector or an instrument can change the results of this experiment. The editing illustrates it by constantly re-framing our perception of an event to change its meaning, and the script does it by adding new information that undermines, contradicts, or expands our sense of why a character did something, or whether they even knew why they did it.
I think I agree with that - this movie is one that lets people see it through their own lens. As someone who got ahead of themselves and participated in a war I later regretted, this movie had me absolutely crying in the theater.
posted by corb at 6:40 AM on August 4, 2023 [6 favorites]


I saw it in IMAX and thought it was pretty great. It was very dense, with lots of characters, and might've worked even better as a ~6-hour miniseries. It also would've been cool if they'd done The Irishman-style mini-bios when they introduced new characters.

I predict Oscars for Cillian Murphy (Best Actor), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Robert Downey, Jr.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:27 PM on August 5, 2023 [1 favorite]


I think that's probably what's behind the lack of visuals of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

I think they didn't show Hiroshima and Nagasaki because the movie's about Oppenheimer. Him seeing Fat Man and Little Boy loaded into boxes and hauled away on trucks, then hearing about the bombing on the radio was the end of his active part.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:43 PM on August 5, 2023 [1 favorite]


One thing I had difficulty understanding after watching the film was what the Gray board was trying to imply with regards to Oppenheimer's changing attitudes towards the hydrogen bomb.

In the text of the film, Oppenheimer is consistently shown as moderately skeptical of the "super", but the board talks about a period of time when he seemed to be more supportive (not depicted in the film), before opposing it again (shown in the scenes where the AEC scentific advisors are discussing with Strauss in response to the discovery of Soviet nuclear tests).

Clearly the Gray board was trying to discredit and reduce Oppenheimer's influence, so perhaps the specific tactics are immaterial. The two main themes they were pursuing seemed to be that Oppenheimer was (1) disloyal to the US, perhaps even a Communist willing to provide aid to the USSR or (2) unwilling or unable to undertake the necessary steps to ensure US national security. But what story they're trying to tell in terms of his motives with regards to the hydrogen bomb in particular eludes me. This culminates in the scene were Robb is questioning Oppenheimer about his scruples and he finally admits he opposed the hydrogen bomb once he realized the US intended to use it no matter what. Was that the damning admission the board was going for, or something else?
posted by Cogito at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2023


For me the movie started off disappointing but then hit its stride. The first half hour had a lot of arch conversation combined with whirling stars and spinning lights to show, y'know, physics. But by the end we are pummelled with relentless moral ambiguity. Was the bomb right or wrong? Who has how much responsibility for what? Are you forgiven for your sins if you writhe in anguish afterwards? Everyone is tainted. There is no escape.

The one flash of moral clarity was Harry Truman. When Oppenheimer said he felt he had blood on his hands, Truman waved a handkerchief under Oppie's nose and said, "Do you think the Japanese give a damn about who made the bomb? No. They care about who dropped it." How dare you come into my office with your precious moral anguish? I'm the one who made the decision. I'm the one who has to live with it.
posted by mono blanco at 12:48 PM on August 10, 2023 [2 favorites]


To me, the pivotal scene was less the test than the bomb being unceremoniously trundled out of Los Alamos afterwards by the military

Agreed. A lot of "end-of-Raiders of the Lost Ark" / "Top men" energy there.
posted by chavenet at 1:58 AM on August 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


I wonder if it's my activist background coming in here, but I took such, such different reads from the movie!

What I meant by that was not that he wasn't capable of ideological commitments or principles but to joining a political party with central discipline. Americans don't really have those - i.e. the Democratic and Republican parties don't have central organisations that require elected members to vote a certain way, most American "Democrats" or "Republicans" are not members of those parties in a sense of paying dues and following party rules. That differs both from how political parties work in many other places (if you're a member of a UK political party and you tweet a suggestion that someone should vote for a different party - that will lead to your expulsion, even if you're just a regular rank and file member) but more importantly to how the Communist party in the US worked at that time.

That was a very disciplined party that demanded adherence in word and deed from its members. That was true of members of the public party as well as members of the secret party (who might be asked to refrain from politics and take government roles instead).

So being a vague "socialist" or being pro-union, being pro-republic in the Spanish Civil War are all things that Oppenheimer could and did to but joining an organised party and submitting himself to central party discipline was not something he could have done - he would have felt it beneath his dignity to take orders from a group of his intellectual inferiors.
posted by atrazine at 2:41 AM on August 24, 2023 [2 favorites]


I had tickets to see this in IMAX 70mm opening night, and then the projector broke. So now I have finally seen the film, in IMAX but no 70mm.

First, the good: the sound! The sound design is amazing. This was certainly the loudest film I've ever seen, in fact it might be the loudest THING I've ever experienced. Normally that would be a criticism but I think it worked here: this was a seriously immersive aural experience, and worthy of note.

The acting! Good all-around. C. Murphy did a great job playing a sphinx. He was reserved, controlled, but there was a torrent of emotions roiling under the surface. Likewise basically everybody else: great acting, great makeup/costumes to accentuate that acting. Great cameos. Great all around.

Two particular scenes: the scene where they tested the bomb. Great tension, phenomenal visuals, great editing, I loved it top to bottom. It left enough to the imagination to make it pretty much perfect.

And then the scene at Los Alamos where he stands at the podium in front of his people. When the cheering becomes manic, psychotic, when the audience is blood-thirsty, when they stop being an audience and devolve into a mob. The shivering background behind oppenheimer, the cheers becoming screams (again, brilliant sound design,) the hallucinations, of people crying and vomiting, stepping in charred corpses. This was probably the best two minutes of the film.

The bad: I saw this movie in IMAX. Why. Why did he shoot this in IMAX. Because except for those two scenes mentioned above, which could not have been more than ten minutes of this two hour film, this was a film where people talked to each other.

That can be a good thing, but what it isn't in this case is cinematic. It was visually flat, and that's a choice, and I'm all for that but again, why do you need this to be the size of god if it's going to be this flat.

Also the dialog. This movie suffers from the biopic double-whammy of never providing one single scene or line that doesn't serve as one of Most Important Moments in the History of the Protagonist's Life, and also lets you know how Important it is with some overwrought dialogue you'll hear this year. Getting close to opera levels of realism on that front.

The ugly: this felt like an Oscarbait movie with a 20x budget. At the end of the day, it was a slightly artsy, self-important biopic about a flawed man who got caught up in his own greatness and ended up building a superweapon that changed the world, but the actual story was about his fight to keep his reputation. The literal climax was about whether he deserved to keep his security clearance and the almost insane lengths one crazy selfish dude went through to keep that from happening.. If Schindler's List sits at the schmaltzy, emotionally manipulative end of the biopic spectrum, this one sits at the other end, the end where they buried the lede so hard I don't even know where to begin.

Altogether? I wish I had gone to see Barbie instead.
posted by nushustu at 3:36 PM on August 25, 2023 [2 favorites]


How Oppenheimer became the unlikeliest blockbuster of the year: Christopher Nolan’s three-hour historical drama just sped past the $900m mark, becoming the biggest biopic ever, but how did he do it? [Guardian / Archive]
posted by ellieBOA at 4:37 PM on September 19, 2023


The Girlies Know: ‘Oppenheimer’ Was Actually About Us [NYT Screenland / Archive]
posted by ellieBOA at 4:54 PM on September 19, 2023


So now that it's out in streaming - I have to say that it is absolutely gorgeous, just beautiful cinematography. Nolan either hires the best DoPs or has such a strong say that he may as well _be_ the DoP. Cillian Murphy's cheekbones were less distracting in the film than they were in the promotional media, which was a relief.

That said, I dunno that the story was entirely clear - it felt like it really wanted to be Strauss' story, the screenplay didn't seem like it really covered Oppenheimer's communist risk very well - it was just a McCarthy Red Scare for Strauss' sake in the end. But three hours of three or four different timeframes to get to that point felt... I dunno.

And, right, there's a really good story to be told there about the scientists of the Manhattan project being uncertain about what the new physics was leading them to, or the actual "spy story" with Fuchs.

But instead we got what we got, with just barely enough screen time to explain why Strauss went from "J. Robert Oppenheimer, my best new physicist buddy!" at the start of the movie to "And I am going to TEAR YOU DOWN" 2/3rds of the way through. Was it just because of the comment about the AEC? The disagreements about super? Oppenheimer's leftist sympathies? Kind of all of the above, I guess? And the movie doesn't really do much to drive the growing antagonism between Strauss and Oppenheimer until you're well past curiosity and deep into bloody mindedness.

On the other hand, I'm sort of glad it wasn't just a 3 hour version of the Oppenheimer bits of The Making of the Atomic Bomb because... whuf, that's a lot of information for any single movie.
posted by Kyol at 10:21 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]


The entire inquiry storyline could be sorted with this line:

"Gentlemen, it seems like you are questioning my judgment at a point for which we have the benefit of hindsight. So I must ask you: was the United States attacked with an atomic bomb, or did it make an attack with an atomic bomb?"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:40 PM on February 16


Maybe I'm just watching this on the wrong day, but is it really the case that a third of the movie is devoted to an investigation into whether he was a communist (well after it's clear he was not) and zero percent of the movie is about the ramifications of what he did?

I'm... not here for this. Very nice, very smart people I like very much seem to like this. I must be on the wrong wavelength.

Nolan movies really feel like Ridley Scott movies to me now: a very talented person overly obsessed with playing with the train set that is a $200MM budget. Lots of nice parts, but he really couldn't be arsed about the whole.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:15 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm just watching this on the wrong day, but is it really the case that a third of the movie is devoted to an investigation into whether he was a communist (well after it's clear he was not) and zero percent of the movie is about the ramifications of what he did?

That wasn't necessarily an "investigation into whether he was Communist" as such. It was technically an investigation into whether his connections to Communists made him a security risk, and in the days of McCarthyism that was a going concern in some government quarters - especially if you were Lewis Strauss and you had a wee tiny ego and thought that Oppenheimer was talking smack about you with Einstein and you wanted to get back at him.

And in fact, there was plenty about the ramifications of what he did. Like that scene in Nevada just after the bombing where everyone's celebrating the detonation at Hiroshima and Oppenheimer has visions that the crowd is turning into nuclear attack victims. Or that bit where he envisions countless missiles and bombs going off worldwide. Or the scene where he begs Truman not to use the bomb because he's feeling such regret that "I feel like I have blood on my hands". Or the very end, where we finally learn that the conversation he had with Einstein - the one which Strauss was so wrong about - was Oppenheimer expressing remorse and regret for having actually developed the bomb.

I'm genuinely surprised you don't see those as being about the ramifications of his actions. Hell, they came close to triggering my own deep-seated "nuclear war imagery" fear response just from the visuals.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 PM on February 16


I guess what I am saying is, the scenes about whether he is a security risk being years after the outcome of the most security intensive thing he ever did being over and it having demonstrably gone exactly and precisely as it should have, it seemed inane.

As for the ramifications thing, I have not finished slogging my way through this yet. If there are scenes depicting Japan and the after effects, I will find that very moving.

I'm just strongly getting the sense that a) those are not coming and b) we will get another half an hour or so of debate on whether Person Who Definitely Successfully Conducted Maybe the Biggest Security Operation in US History Very Well has things in his past that indicate it could have gone badly (but definitely didn't.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:03 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm just watching this on the wrong day, but is it really the case that a third of the movie is devoted to an investigation into whether he was a communist (well after it's clear he was not) and zero percent of the movie is about the ramifications of what he did?

This come straight from American Prometheus, the biography that the book is based on. The communism accusations seem to me like a shitty little detail in a complex and extraordinary life, but the book and this movie treat them as its fulcrum.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 3:46 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


That's how it feels to me.

I should be clear that when I say "ramifications" I do not mean of the conceptual, now-there-are-fearsome-nuclear-weapons variety.

I am speaking specifically of the 110,000 people his bombs actually already horribly murdered.

I'll finish this today. I don't normally pop in to complain about a movie before I've finished. I just have this very grim feeling I'm going to get even more security clearance arguing and little to nothing on him destroying two cities full of people. I have a sense of hearing that complaint going around and the structure of the movie seems to indicate this will be the case.

I spent a day at Hiroshima this summer and while that doesn't make me an expert, it is a bit like I felt about the Anne Frank House or what people tell me they felt about seeing Auschwitz: it imprints on you and leaves a little fire burning in you that never seems to go back out.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:42 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I guess what I am saying is, the scenes about whether he is a security risk being years after the outcome of the most security intensive thing he ever did being over and it having demonstrably gone exactly and precisely as it should have, it seemed inane.

It seemed inane because in reality it was inane. The McCarthy era was itself inane.

As for the ramifications thing, I have not finished slogging my way through this yet. If there are scenes depicting Japan and the after effects, I will find that very moving.

OHHHHHHHHHHHHH, okay, now that makes sense - you haven't finished watching. Got it - the stuff I'm referring to comes later (and now I'm afraid I spoiled you); you don't see any straightforward acknowledgement of it (i.e., you don't see a clip of a devastated city with the subtitle "Hiroshima, August 7th - one day after the bomb" or anything like that), but it is acknowledged, in a way that is a bit "arty" but still registers; at least it registered enough to trigger my own nuclear-war-imagery wiggins (I had to cover my eyes throughout a couple sequences towards the end).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:56 AM on February 17


I finished it. I think this was just not the movie I wanted to see. I don't like the American Prometheus mythologizing. I don't like the humanizing angle that he was actually a complicated man people didn't understand, even decades later. I don't find it that interesting.

I think the most significant thing about him was that one time he helped kill more than a hundred thousand human beings.

Conceptually, this framing just doesn't work for me.

As ever, Nolan is a very talented filmmaker from a technical standpoint. I just don't care for the framing.

A drinking game we made up in our house is to take a drink every time a character says something hugely portentous and then the conversation dissolves, as though they are anticipating a curtain falling or a commercial break, even though no way in hell could you say something like "We have to make sure this is the last bomb!" and then just have people blithely return to what they were doing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:09 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I think the most significant thing about him was that one time he helped kill more than a hundred thousand human beings.

I thought the subject matter was super interesting, but the overall outcome was that lots of scientists working competently built something of unimaginable destruction, and Oppenheimer himself was not a particularly interesting character (from a movie lead perspective) so they tried to bunch it up with confusion and the anti-communist trial, which was kind of anti-climactic.

I honestly though the movie should have culminated with the scene with Truman, if it's going to be about the horrors of the bomb as experienced by Oppenheimer, or about his withering importance to the US nuclear weapons research, if the trial was supposed to be the climax, with an ending like the one discussed but not acted on in the movie with the conversation between Oppenheimer and Einstein. They should have highlighted his replacement in science and power.

Whatever. A so-so plotted movie with lots of good actors and probably a pretty decent historical re-enactment of a timeline super important to the world. As far as 'historical reenactment' type movies are concerned, I honestly thought the Sully one about the plane crash and trial was a bit better, but this one was good.

Was it on the same plane as Barbie, as a movie? Not even close.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:16 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I tried rewatching Oppenheimer at home recently. Holy crap I was wrong before - this is the opposite of a good, watchable movie. I felt like my brain was melting from the chopped up narrative technique, why, why was that necessary?? Some movies chop up their storylines and tell their story asynchronously to highlight certain themes and sort of position elements of the narrative together for mutual resonance. In this movie the chopping up had no rhyme or reason. There's no thematic reason for cutting up the scenes in exactly this order (at least not in the whole first half of the movie - I stopped my rewatch there). No plot reason. No any reason. It felt like I was reading a Dan Brown novel with chapters that were two paragraphs long, and, like, eighteen different pov characters taking turns to say their two-paragraph piece before someone else took over. Everything gets lost in the shuffle. What the fuuuuuck.

This is dreck. Unwatchable dreck.
posted by MiraK at 5:04 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Just finally got around to seeing this last night, and generally feel like it was outstanding. We had a few minor quibbles and nitpicks, but I feel like most complaints I've seen about the movie are of the nature of "I wanted this to be a different movie than it was," which aren't very useful critiques IMO. Anyway, of the things that I loved:

1. The Collaboration. In part this is inevitable due to the nature of the Manhattan Project, but there's also a narrative and storytelling choice going into this, in that for a three-hour-long movie about the life of a famous physicist, it doesn't really indulge in any A Beautiful Mind bullshit or promote the "lonely genius" myth. All the scientists are working together throughout the story. (This is something of a hobby horse of mine, I realized. My wife is a mathematician, and on our first date she told me how seeing the collaborative nature of the work is what got her into math, and how much it bugs her that society/pop culture is obsessed with this idea of singular minds who can think in unique ways blah blah blah. And this fits the story and facts well - Oppenheimer's particular skill was apparently with comprehending a lot of different ideas and seeing the big picture and being able to communicate/sell that. Anyway, this was good to see.

2. The Structure. Sorry, MiraK, but I think it absolutely serves a purpose. The best point of comparison I can think of is Catch-22, another WWII story told through seemingly chaotic skipping-around-time which notably revisits a number of events repeatedly, but with new or different perspective on them, here serving the themes of moral ambiguity and of Oppenheimer acting without a lot of regard for consequences. By structuring this through questioning at his clearance revocation hearing (and Strauss' confirmation hearing), we get a constant thematic reinforcement of the idea that the details of Oppenheimer's life are undeniably petty compared to the massive importance of the atomic bomb. So we see his relationship with Jean Tatlow, first framed as Oppenheimer would imagine it, in classic and almost comedic romantic terms, we see her act as something of a conscience for him at a time when he doesn't have much moral bearing, we see Kitty's perspective on the affair (which is understandably much more lurid, focusing on the physical intimacy but lacking in the intellectual/emotional intimacy we saw in previous scenes, and we see it lead to Jean's death, whether by her own hands or those of the government. Memory is fractured like that, and while telling stories that way isn't always going to be a good fit, it works gangbusters here, showing the folly of trying to build a coherent narrative around a life that is inextricably tied to one huge central event. Speaking of:

3. The Trinity Test. This sequence was simply a masterpiece, and one which took unbelievable skill and understanding to achieve. We the viewers all know where it's leading - the test will be successful - and we're almost certainly ambivalent about it being successful in intellectual terms. We know this is the big moment we've been building to for the whole first half of this epic film, and while the test is certainly dangerous, we can feel pretty confident that nobody's life is in immediate peril during this sequence. Basically, in less assured hands, this would be an inert moment of pure spectacle, and instead tentpoles the entire story in a breathtaking, devastating way. They pile on the (presumably drawn from history) plot devices there - the ticking clock of the political timetable, the weather, the failed implosion test - to give our protagonists real obstacles to overcome, which gets us on their side in wanting, needing, this to work. They set us up by showing us the earlier implosion test, giving us a good sense of scale for what - prior to this moment - a bomb looked like. And they show us all the laughably naive preparations that the observer teams are using - laying flat on the ground, slathering themselves with whatever that silver shit was, or Feynman insisting on watching the whole thing through his car's windshield. And, of course, the score. The tension in this sequence was almost unbearable for us. And the "payoff" feels just monumentally enormous. And horrifying. Which is important because of:

4. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I admire the hell out of the restraint the film shows in not showing us the usage of the bombs in Japan. It was the right choice for several reasons. The most obvious one is that our perspective is with Oppenheimer (or Strauss) for the whole time, and taking us out of that would weaken the narrative. It would also easily run the risk of cheapening the loss of life involved (because these would almost necessarily be nameless Japanese extras in comparison to the characters we've been following this whole time) or worse, glorifying it. Avoiding that possibility was smart, I think. But what really makes it work, for me, is that we've been hitting on the theme of Oppenheimer's work being theoretical this whole time. His work, quite literally, culminates in the test, after which he's immediately out in the cold. But because they did such an effective job in showing us the test, we like Oppenheimer are left applying that mental image to what it would do to people. It's left to our imagination, like it is left to his, and we've just seen more than enough to let our imaginations run wild with it. This is also when Oppenheimer himself starts to really consider consequences, and it helps the theme there for us to not have concrete images and instead be left having to imagine such things ourselves. The "certainty" of an objective lens on the events would make the story weaker.

5. Again, the structure. By putting the Trinity Test more or less right in the middle of the movie, it allows us to explore the "Before" and "After" in a character way (also made possible by all the time-skipping.) It shows us Oppenheimer's growth into someone less narcissistic, with more of a moral compass, who cares more about the practical consequences of his actions, while having to account for a messy life in which he definitely was not all of those things. A straight-line chronological narrative would not have told that story nearly as effectively. Just for one example, Oppenheimer's "humiliation" of Strauss - "more useful than a sandwich" - happens after the bombs have been dropped and the war is won. In our timeline of important events, it basically happens right before Strauss' retaliation for it, and the cavalierness of it wouldn't fit where the character needs to be, because real life is messy like that. So instead we see it early on, where it does fit, and revisit it later in the context of the retaliation, and with the understanding now that Oppenheimer was testifying in an attempt to build an international community that he hoped would prevent further armed conflict. Which bring sme to:

6. Strauss. Robert Downey, Jr. killed this (of course he did, and he was just one of a huge number of excellent performances in this from leads down to bit parts.) I don't know much about the real-life Strauss, and what little I know makes him a much more complicated person than we see here, but that's fine, because he serves an important role here as the primary antagonist. Specifically, his arrogance, pettiness and vindictiveness are hinted at earlier but not really revealed until the final act, which allows for RDJ to play dynamics in what is by necessity a static character. And by foregrounding Strauss' ego in this way - along with his surprise at Hill's testimony, i.e. the unforeseen consequences of Strauss' actions - we get a point of comparison for Oppenheimer's messy, murky, and subtle character growth. Which is essential in telling the story of the man who created the most devastatingly destructive tool mankind had ever seen and then tried to reckon with how to handle that afterwards. Oppenheimer's arc ends more or less at "regret," and for that note to play, we need to see it contrasted against its opposite, and Strauss gives us that, as well as giving us his version of Oppenheimer's arc, which is purely narcissistic in it's understanding because that's how Strauss can comprehend it.

I could go on and on (and have!) but damn, this was good.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:59 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


> The Structure. Sorry, MiraK, but I think it absolutely serves a purpose.

Oh hey, no sorry necessary. And I hope I'm not yucking other people's yum! A lot of people clearly loved this movie, one of my kids included. I am going to practice restraint in my categorical declarations... Eep.
posted by MiraK at 8:43 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Ha! And your opinion is also valid! The structure just really worked for me.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:47 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Categorical declarations is what Fanfare is for! Declare away. :)
posted by mediareport at 9:18 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


As for my quibbles, I felt like Alden Ehrenreich's Senate Aide was a little jarring, just in that it was a small part (unnamed, even) that had its own disillusionment character arc going on, and since we don't have enough time and space in the story to really set that up and let it breathe, it comes off a little heavy-handed, like something from a slightly lesser film (and the character's lines ended up feeling a little anachronistic to me as a result, though YMMV.) That they gave him the dun-dun-DUNN! line about Kennedy at the end didn't help, as that was weirdly clunky and unnecessary, I thought, and also undercuts Strauss's established Washington savvy by having him not know who JFK was in the summer of 1959 (true, he wouldn't announce his presidential candidacy until January 1960, but someone in Strauss' position would certainly know who he was.)

The poison apple thing was weird. Not enough to take me out of things, but it really bugged my wife. I can see it as an early example of Oppenheimer acting without regard to consequences and then trying to rush back to fix things, but for her it played more like a way to tell us early that he's not a hero, which clunked for her. On the other hand, I felt like the scene where Kitty finds him in the snow after Jean's death was rushed, and needed another beat or two in it to land properly, but my wife loved that, feeling like it was utterly accurate to Kitty's character and relatable that it played out the way that it did.

And, of course, speaking of Kitty, yeah, Nolan has never been great with women. This is, I believe, the best he's done so far, however low that bar may be. Kitty's testimony scene is a tour-de-force, just absolutely stunning work from Emily Blunt (and Jason Clarke as her counterpart!) And I think that the movie sets it up really well, but in ways that aren't great in isolation. To start, Jean Tatlow is introduced much more romantically and sympathetically than Kitty is. I think Florence Hugh has more innate likability on screen than Emily Blunt does, for one thing, but also Jean and Oppenheimer have a lot of sparks when they meet, while Kitty is a depressive alcoholic whose courtship of Oppenheimer is portrayed as calculated and almost mechanical. We see Jean and Oppenheimer making love, while we see Kitty pregnant or else surrounded by constantly crying children. Through the first half of the movie, Kitty comes across as cold, shrill, and an impediment to Oppenheimer being with his true love, Jean.

Of course, this is all stuff we've seen before, in just about any movie or series centered on a male antihero. It's tired and trite by this point, to the point of being offensive. But then the movie subverts it. Right before her testimony, Oppenheimer has the line (to his counsel, I think? But maybe to Rabi?) about how only adolescents and fools think they can understand other peoples' relationships, and that landed as accurate to me. The movie didn't have the space to delve into their marriage, and attempting to do so may not have played well in any case. Instead, the testimony scene made a bunch of things from earlier in the movie land into place, contextually. Like, that she's a scientist herself - a biologist if I recall - forced unhappily into her wife-and-mother role, but she's whip-smart and happy to run rings around a prosecutor who was intimidating everyone else we see across from him to that point, including General Groves. She's hurt by Oppenheimer's affairs, but she also has an understanding of infidelity and isn't going to write him off as a result of them (though as we see with Teller, she can for sure hold a grudge when she wants to.) And while she can be cold, she can turn that towards fiercely protecting her husband, making it play as something like her love language.

All this to say that for as problematic as the earlier scenes with Kitty possibly are, I think that they are ultimately in service of the testimony scene, which was riviting.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:09 AM on May 30


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