Christopher Nolan pulls out all the stops to bring the narrative of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb who lived to see the devastation and long-term hazards that his weapon of mass destruction unleashed on the globe, to the big screen in the biggest possible way.

Oppenheimer is a cinematic masterpiece that achieves a stunning blend of visual grandeur, technical brilliance, emotional intimacy, and an investigation of the limitations of human striving and ambition. The director’s unambiguous awareness of the ethical concerns surrounding the outstanding American theoretical physicist’s legacy shines through all of the layers that comprise the picture.

At a more superficial level, the film gives the writer-director the scope to orchestrate the elements of space and time in a straightforward but a highly enthralling manner and tap the dramatic potential of the tragic story of a genius who pushed the boundaries of quantum physics only to trigger a dangerous arms race.

The three-hour epic is about a man, quantum physics, and a point in history, but it feels timeless, almost Shakespearean in its morality tale about an impossible feat and its awful consequences. The picture is jam-packed with many narrative and spatial aspects that Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema harness and use to tell a riveting story about science, war, and political vendetta.

However, the film’s formal qualities aren’t the only thing that stand out. Its thematic complexity transforms it into an introspection (however wordy) on science, weapons, and the horrors of war without showing video of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and their effects.
As a scientist who unwittingly armed the human race with a self-destruct button, Oppenheimer, played with unwavering solidity by regular Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy, is presented as a genius who pays as high a price for his deadly invention as he does for his subsequent decision to turn into an advocate for nuclear arms control.

The thrill of scientific discovery, the consequences of political events, and the inner workings of personal relationships are all woven into the intricate but never dull tale. Nolan, with the help of Murphy, transforms Oppenheimer into a figure that inspires awe and admiration in the first place. However, when a formidable rival turns against him and attempts to corner him by harping on his pro-left associations, the hero becomes a helpless victim of a “kangaroo court.”

Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty (a fantastic Emily Blunt) and the firebrand Communist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh in a remarkable cameo) with whom he has an affair are integral parts of the story, as are the friends and rivals who surround the scientist as he works on the bomb in the hope that it would end all wars.

The atomic bomb that Oppenheimer delivers to the US military ends World War II in the Pacific, but it also begins a public war for a national hero’s status, as well as a moral dilemma sparked by pangs of guilt.

Based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s 2005 tell-all biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the film takes extensively from the book and constructs a cinematic work that sucks you in instantly and tosses up themes that demand absolute attention. It’s a full-fledged movie experience that’s both thought-provoking and thrilling.

Oppenheimer does an incredible job of taking the audience to another age, but it also speaks to our time in a visceral and contemporary way. It’s the kind of picture that’s as much about a guy and his disputed accomplishment as it is about an entire century locked in an endless cycle of war and human suffering.
Oppenheimer is as important a film as any that Nolan has ever made.

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