Oppenheimer is a 2023 epic American biographical thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Based on 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, the film follows the career of American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The story predominantly focuses on Oppenheimer’s early studies, his involvement in the Manhattan Project during World War II, and his fall from grace due to his 1954 security hearing. Cillian Murphy stars as the title character, Emily Blunt as his wife Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, Matt Damon as Leslie Groves, the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss, a senior member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The cast also includes Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek and Kenneth Branagh.
In 1926, the 22-year-ols doctoral student J. Robert Oppenheimer suffers from homesickness and anxiety while studying under experimental physicist Patrick Blackett at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Upset with Blackett, Oppenheimer fights back by leaving him a poisoned apple, then barely stops visiting scientistNiels Bohr from eating it. Oppenheimer completes his physics PHD in Germany, and later meets theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg at a conference in Switzerland. He returns to the United States, hoping to expand quantum physics research there, and starts teaching at the University of California, Berkeley and California Institute of technology; not long after, World War II breaks out in Europe. He meets his future wife, Katherine Puening, a biologist and ex-communist, and also has an intermittent affair with Jean Tatlock, a member of the Communist Party USA, until her suicide a few years later.
In 1942, U.S. Army General Leslie Groves recruits Oppenheimer to lead the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb after Oppenheimer gives promise that he has communist ties or sympathies. Oppenheimer, who is Jewish, is particulary driven by the Nazis’ potentially completing their nuclear weapons program that Heisenberg heads. Oppenheimer assembles a scientific team including Edward Teller and Isidor Isaac Rabi in Los Alamos, New Mexico to secretly create the bomb. Oppenheimer works with scientists to Enrico Fermi and David L. Hill, and he and Albert Einstein discuss how an atomic bomb risks triggering an unstoppable chain reaction that could destroy the world.
After Germany surrenders, several project scientists question the bomb’s continued importance, but Oppenheimer emphasizes it will end the war in the Pacific. The Trenity test is successfully conducted just before the Postdam Conference. President Harry S. Truman orders Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be bombed, forcing Japan’s surrender. Oppenheimer is thrown into the public eye as the “father of the atomic bomb” but the immense destruction and massive fatalities haunts him. He urges Truman to restrict further nuclear weapon developmen, but he president rejects Oppenheimer’s advice, calling it weak.
At a hearing intended to eliminate his political influence, Oppenheimer is betrayed by Teller and other colleagues. Strauss exploits Oppenheimer’s associations with Communists such as Tatlock and Oppenheimer brother, Frank. Despite Rabi and several other allies testifying in Oppenheimer’s defense, his security clearance is prematurely revoked, damaging his public image and neutralizing his policy influence.
As an advisor to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Oppenheimer advocates against further nuclear research, especially the hydrogen bomb, started by Teller. His stance becomes a point of dispute amid the intense Cold War with the Soviet Union. AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss resents Oppenheimer for publicly dismissing his worries about the export of radiosotopes and recommending arms talks with the Soviet Union.
At a hearing intended to stop political influence, Oppenheinmer is betrayed by Teller and others. Strauss exploits Oppenheimer’s associations with communists such as Tatlock and Oppenheimer’s brother, Frank. Despite Rabi and several other partners testifying in Oppenheimer’s defense, his security clearance is revoked, ruining his public image and annulling his policy influence. At Strauss’s later Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Commerce, Hill testifies about Strauss’s personal motives in engineering Oppenheimer’s deposition. The senate votes against Strauss’s nomination.
In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson presents Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award as an act of political recovery.
This a really long film at over three hours in runtime. Towards the end, it does drag on, making you wonder if it will ever end, but the amazing story and outstanding acting and cinematography make up for that. There is a lot of talking, almost too much, but there is a lot action and drama as well, that make the movie entertaining. Nolan goes long and deep in the making of the bomb, an astonishing and horrifying process. He doesn’t restage the attacks though; there are no documentary shots of deaths or scenes of cities in ruin, choices that show his ethicality in directing. The horros of the bombings and the aftermath and the magnitude of the suffering they caused, permeate the film. Oppenheimer is a magnificent achievement in the art of filmmaking, absorbing the history of the story beautifully.
The story chronicles Oppenheimer, played with extreme intensity by Cillian Murphy, covering decades, starting in the 1920s with him as a young adult and it continues until his hair grays. The film involves the professional and personal achievements, including his work on the bomb, the controversies surrounding him, the anti-Communism and the attacks that almost destroyed him, as well as his romances and friendships that helped him grow, but also disturbed him.
This is a very deep story that is filled with event after event that Nolan tells with pure genius that not many other filmmakers today can do. He goes from color to black and white, zooms in and zooms out, uses intense sound effects and no sound at all, as well as intense effects to caputre the life of one of the most important, yet complicated men American history, a man who never won the Nobel Prize like he should have (yet 31 one other scientists on the Manhattan project did) for such an achievement.
Although the film doesn’t tell of his upbringing as a child, it does tell of his love for science at a very early age and how he got interested and started in quantum physics. Yes, it would have been very interesting to learn about Oppenheimer’s childhood, but it would have made the film probably close to five hours or more. There are books and documentaries that talk about his life as a child for those wanting to learn about it.
Yes, this is a really long movie. It does spend a lot of time on the hearings, but it also spends a lot of time as well on the concieving of the idea and the building of the bomb as well. Had the ending been shorter, you wouldn’t have learned much about Oppenheimer’s relationship with Albert Einstein, or how the hearings went down and their results.
Cillian Murphy is amazing as J. Robert Oppenheimer, a role only he could play. Emily Blunt is great as “Kitty” Oppenheimer. Matt Damon is excellent as General Leslie Groves. Robert Downey Jr. is outstanding as Lewis Strauss. Florence Pugh is really good in her role as Jean Tatlock, the psychiatrist and Communist Party USA member, whom J. Robert had a relationship and eventual affair with. Joshn Hartnett in his best role to date, is great in the role as nuclear phsicist and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Lawrence. Casey Affleck is really good as U.S. Army military intelligence officer Boris Pash. Rami Malek is good, not great as nuclear physicist David L. Hill. Kenneth Branagh does a fine job as Danish physicist Neils Bohr.
This film, though long and dragged out, still has Oscars written all over it. This is one of the greatest biopics of all time alongside others like Capote, 12 Years a Slave, and Schindler’s List. The way Christopher Nolan uses color, as well as black and white, and goes from past to present, to time periods in between, is pure genius. This movie, shot on Imax 70mm film, makes it as breathtaking as it is shocking, along with the fantanstic acting, costuming, effects, cinematography, and soundtrack. Nolan captures Oppenheimer and The Manhattan Project so spectacuraly, it sucks you in and takes you on a ride of romance, war, science, bombs, and legal trails. The director also uses no CGI to capture the effects, which very few directors today do, which make the film even more captivating and can lead it to more award nominations, and possible wins.
Overall, this is an extraordinary film, a must-see. If you only go to see one movie this year, make it this one. Sure, Barbie is cute and fun, but you’ll likely forget about it in a couple years or so. Oppenheimer you’ll probably never forget whether you’ve seen it once or over one-hundred times. Stunning, stunning, stunning, a masterpiece of cinematic art. 18+ 4.5/5