6 observations on Oppenheimer: Why you should watch it 
6 Observations On Oppenheimer: Why You Should Watch It 

Nolan’s first attempt at a biopic and his longest movie till date is very Nolanesque, yet unlike any of his recent outings

Based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman’s American Prometheus, the 2005 biography of the theoretical physicist who helmed the development of first atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s recent release Oppenheimer with its sprawling and detailed visuals, shot on long format film, the zero-CGI explosive IMAX experience, an astounding sound design, and a superlative performance by Cillian Murphy, is a tour de force in filmmaking and an ‘almost’ masterpiece. It is very Nolanesque, yet unlike any of his recent outings. This is the filmmaker’s first attempt at a biopic and with a runtime of almost 3 hours, his longest movie till date.  Here’s a breakdown of all the things that work for Nolan’s magnum opus and that one thing that robs it of its ‘masterpiece’ status.  


Cillian Murphy 

The man deserves an Oscar for this movie. Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer, ‘Father of the Atomic Bomb’, is perfection from start to finish. The close-up of his face, especially his eyes, forms the emotional core of the movie. From being an ambitious man bubbling with excitement over scientific experiments to being a man left to sift through the skeletons his ambition and invention has left behind, Murphy’s eyes can be a masterclass in acting where less is more. 

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An All-Star cast 


Apart from Cillian Murphy, the movie has the likes of Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr.,  Florence Pugh, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Josh Hartnett, Kenneth Branagh, Gary Oldman, and more, making it one of the most elaborate A-list cast any movie has seen in recent times. And each actor brings in their A-game, especially Robert Downey Jr as Lewis Strauss, the surprise antagonist (this might as well be regarded as one of RDJ’s career best performances).  Emily Blunt as Katherine Oppenheimer gets one scene to shine and she is every bit brilliant in that scene. Same goes for Rami Malek. However, it is a different thing that many of these characters, especially the women, are underwritten.

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An IMAX masterpiece


The IMAX film resolution is almost 10 times more than a 35mm projector. The movie is shot on large format film stock–a combination of IMAX 65mm and Panavision 65mm—and are then projected in 70mm (Nolan had earlier shot substantial portions of Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Tenet on 15-perf 65mm). For the films’ black and white portions, Kodak in collaboration with FotoKem and IMAX created the first-ever black and white IMAX film stock. Apart from adding depth to the stark landscape of Los Alamos, the IMAX camera’s large-format photography captures the intimate emotions of Oppenheimer’s face with spectacular detail. This film needs to be watched on an IMAX screen for optimum immersive experience. 

No CGI experience 

A film dealing with an atomic bomb blast made sans any CGI. Sounds impossible; especially in the age where cinema is getting made mostly on green screen. But for Christopher Nolan, a purist, that is exactly what he wanted to attempt—to create electron clouds, nuclear fission, collapsing stars, m-strings, and a nuclear explosion with zero-CGI. 

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Nolan had in an interview stated that he has entirely avoided the use of CGI in the movie, even while recreating the historic Trinity test, the first-ever nuclear bomb test explosion, done in the desert of New Mexico in 1945. And the way he has achieved this is by using the age-old trick of ‘forced perspective’ and filming smaller version of the explosion using petroleum-filled actual bombs up close, is a testimony to the power and scope of human creativity. 


The Soundscape 

If the stunning visuals of Oppenheimer are a celebration of the sheer brilliance of cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, the sweeping and transportive soundscape, created by Ludwig Göransson, is what makes those visuals throb with life. While the violin forms the emotional core, there is abundant use of string ensembles and synths that create an operatic feel especially in the moments of high drama. From the creaking sound of a Geiger counter to the use of the classic Nolan device, the audio illusion called a ‘Shepard tone’ to denote rising tension (something Hans Zimmer used to create the unique and impactful BGM of Dunkirk), the soundscape of Oppenheimer is nothing short of explosive. 

But like every human-made thing, it’s not perfect… 

Just like Dunkirk, my only gripe with Oppenheimer is that although it dazzles your senses but never pierces your heart. Nolan focuses more on the depth of the images than the depth of emotions. As a result, you are wowed but never really overwhelmed by the goings-on. The movie, never really gets into Oppenheimer’s severe mental and emotional turmoil, which is particularly disappointing since Nolan has written the script in first person ensuring there was ample space for the same. It is too dialogue heavy to offer the quieter moments for the emotions to brew. Instead of being a deeply personal story, a psychological drama, of a broken and gravely guilt-ridden man who believed that he had set the ball in motion for an inevitable Doomsday, in its final hour, Oppenheimer becomes more of an intense courtroom drama and a hero-villain story that trembles on the brink of melodrama.

Featured image credits: Syncopy Inc., Atlas Entertainment, Universal Pictures

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