Dr Khusi Pattanayak

Nothing in the Nolanverse is ever predictable or easily accessible. So is the epical Oppenheimer – a biopic on the father of the atomic bomb, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer.

A cinematic delight, Oppenheimer is the ubiquitous Christopher Nolan offering that merges philosophy and film-making while presenting a flawed central character.

Nolan does not waste a single frame and launches into his favourite mode of storytelling – non-linear narrative.

Oppenheimer simultaneously runs through multiple timelines while presenting the various facets of a genius physicist who had a troubled past (homesickness, depression, political association) and whose thought process was (as one of his colleagues mentions) difficult to read.

That was probably Nolan’s favourite aspect to explore – the enigma of a genius. Much like the auteur’s own works; available but not accessible at the same time. Like many of his earlier movies, here too, grief and traumatic memories play a crucial role in shaping Oppenheimer’s persona.

Even though Dr. Oppenheimer, after the successful experiment, assumes he has ‘…become death, destroyer of worlds,’ both his success and downfall are engineered. As the movie insists, his life and knowledge remained largely at the mercy of the political whims.

Based on the biography American Prometheus (2005) written by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (who are credited as writers along with Christopher Nolan) the film is a visual spectacle. The script restricts itself to only one bomb blast shot – the experimental one, no Hiroshima or Nagasaki. A judicious call. The focus of the movie was the turbulent life of a scientist; and not to serve us a war-drama.  But that one shot which lasts probably for less than 5 minutes takes the breath away.

Theoretical Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer

Nolan’s grandeur is brought alive on screen through Oscar winning Ludwig Göransson’s music (Black Panther, Tenet) and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography (Interstellar, Dunkirk). It must have been a mammoth task to edit something so massive, but credits to Jennifer Lame (Tenet, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) for providing such seamless fission and fusion on screen.

The casting by John Papsidera is extraordinary – all the familiar actors in massively unfamiliar roles. Cillian Murphy (who has previously collaborated with the director in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Dunkirk) carries off Dr. Oppenheimer as if he was born to play it.

Oppenheimer’s mystic impenetrable presence finds home in Murphy’s closeups (especially his eyes). Emily Blunt is shrewd, sassy and loyal; wish she had more screentime. Matt Damon never ceases to surprise, he does not this time either.  But the real scene stealer was Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss.

Who would have thought an actor playing a superhero since forever could be ‘re-discovered’ as a manipulative power center in someone else’s’ bio-pic!! Oppenheimer’s stellar cast (many who appear in memorable cameo) is the cinematic tribute to the great (wo)men and minds that shaped the scientific world of their respective times.

Oppenheimer gives a lot of information in a limited time, while some may complain about information overload it was probably the filmmaker’s way of teasing his audience about not being prepared enough to watch a Nolan movie. A Nolan movie expects a lot of engagement from the audience, this is no different.

Despite the glorious attempt, Oppenheimer is largely a male-dominated narrative. Women are reduced to mere props. They are either child-bearing machines or not so significant work colleagues. Given the era, women in workforce were rare (that too in such exclusive environment); but those women who had a chance to be intellectually equal are also reduced to being maniacs and alcoholics.

The story is carried forward primarily through the dialogues and for a 3-hour long saga there is way too much talk going on. But like every Nolan movie, there is something for each audience and here too one leaves the hall with his/her own interpretation of the complexity of the human advancement through scientific knowledge.

Oppenheimer is a cinematic parable on values and valour. It is not an action-thriller. It is the return of good old days of soulful movies.

If you are a fan of films, do watch it in your nearest theatre.

(The author is an internationally published writer & corporate communication specialist. Views are personal)