‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Man for Our Time (2024)

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Critic’s Pick

Christopher Nolan’s complex, vivid portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” is a brilliant achievement in formal and conceptual terms.

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‘Oppenheimer’ | Anatomy of a Scene

The writer and director Christopher Nolan narrates the opening sequence from the film, starring Cillian Murphy.

Hi, I’m Christopher Nolan director, writer, and co-producer of “Oppenheimer.” Opening with the raindrops on the water came late to myself and Jen Lane in the edit suite. But ultimately, it became a motif that runs the whole way through the film. Became very important. These opening images of the detonation at Trinity are based on the real footage. Andrew Jackson, our visual effects supervisor, put them together using analog methods to try and reproduce the incredible frame rates that their technology allowed at the time, superior to what we have today. Adapting Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s book “American Prometheus,” I fully embraced the Prometheun theme, but ultimately chose to change the title to “Oppenheimer” to give a more direct idea of what the film was going to be about and whose point of view we’re seeing. And here we have Cillian Murphy with an IMAX camera inches from his nose. Hoyte van Hoytema was incredible. IMAX camera revealing everything. And I think, to some degree, applying the pressure to Cillian as Oppenheimer that this hearing was applying. “Yes, your honor.” “We’re not judges, Doctor.” “Oh.” And behind him, out of focus, the great Emily Blunt who’s going to become so important to the film as Kitty Oppenheimer, who gradually comes more into focus over the course of the first reel. We divided the two timelines into fission and fusion, the two different approaches to releasing nuclear energy in this devastating form to try and suggest to the audience the two different timelines. And then embraced black-and-white shooting here. Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss being shot on IMAX black-and-white film. The first time anyone’s ever shot that film. Made especially for us. And he’s here talking to Alden Ehrenreich who is absolutely indicative of the incredible ensemble that our casting director John Papsidera put together. Robert Downey Jr. utterly transformed, I think, not just in terms of appearance, but also in terms of approach to character, stripping away years of very well-developed charisma to just try and inhabit the skin of a somewhat awkward, sometimes venal, but also charismatic individual, and losing himself in this utterly. And then as we come up to this door, we go into the Senate hearing rooms. And we try to give that as much visibility, grandeur, and glamour to contrast with the security hearing that’s so claustrophobic. And takes Oppenheimer completely out of the limelight. [CROWD SHOUTING]

‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Man for Our Time (1)

By Manohla Dargis

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Oppenheimer
NYT Critic’s Pick
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Biography, Drama, History
R
3 hours

“Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s staggering film about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man known as “the father of the atomic bomb,” condenses a titanic shift in consciousness into three haunted hours. A drama about genius, hubris and error, both individual and collective, it brilliantly charts the turbulent life of the American theoretical physicist who helped research and develop the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II — cataclysms that helped usher in our human-dominated age.

The movie is based on “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” the authoritative 2005 biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Written and directed by Nolan, the film borrows liberally from the book as it surveys Oppenheimer’s life, including his role in the Manhattan Engineer District, better known as the Manhattan Project. He served as director of a clandestine weapons lab built in a near-desolate stretch of Los Alamos, in New Mexico, where he and many other of the era’s most dazzling scientific minds puzzled through how to harness nuclear reactions for the weapons that killed tens of thousands instantly, ending the war in the Pacific.

The atomic bomb and what it wrought define Oppenheimer’s legacy and also shape this film. Nolan goes deep and long on the building of the bomb, a fascinating and appalling process, but he doesn’t restage the attacks; there are no documentary images of the dead or panoramas of cities in ashes, decisions that read as his ethical absolutes. The horror of the bombings, the magnitude of the suffering they caused and the arms race that followed suffuse the film. “Oppenheimer” is a great achievement in formal and conceptual terms, and fully absorbing, but Nolan’s filmmaking is, crucially, in service to the history that it relates.

The story tracks Oppenheimer — played with feverish intensity by Cillian Murphy — across decades, starting in the 1920s with him as a young adult and continuing until his hair grays. The film touches on personal and professional milestones, including his work on the bomb, the controversies that dogged him, the anti-Communist attacks that nearly ruined him, as well as the friendships and romances that helped sustain yet also troubled him. He has an affair with a political firebrand named Jean Tatlock (a vibrant Florence Pugh), and later weds a seductive boozer, Kitty Harrison (Emily Blunt, in a slow-building turn), who accompanies him to Los Alamos, where she gives birth to their second child.

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‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Man for Our Time (2)

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‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Man for Our Time (2024)

FAQs

What was Oppenheimer's famous quote? ›

As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, a piece of Hindu scripture ran through the mind of J. Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” It is, perhaps, the most well-known line from the Bhagavad Gita, but also the most misunderstood.

How much of Oppenheimer is accurate? ›

Heavily based on "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, the movie stays pretty faithful to the man's eventful, unusual life. But that doesn't mean there aren't some exaggerations or inconsistencies.

What do critics think of Oppenheimer? ›

The horror of the bombings, the magnitude of the suffering they caused and the arms race that followed suffuse the film. “Oppenheimer” is a great achievement in formal and conceptual terms, and fully absorbing, but Nolan's filmmaking is, crucially, in service to the history that it relates.

Why did Truman call Oppenheimer a crybaby? ›

Summary. Truman did call Oppenheimer a 'crybaby scientist' but not directly or during the depicted event. Events in Oppenheimer film differed slightly from historical reality, adding drama to the scene. Nolan clarified Truman's remark as a response to Oppenheimer expressing guilt post-atomic bombings.

What is the controversial line in Oppenheimer? ›

In a controversial scene, Jean and Oppenheimer are having sex while he reads Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text in Hinduism. He reads the line, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds," during the act itself. Hindu right-wing nationalists called the scene an "attack on Hinduism."

What was Oppenheimer's IQ? ›

Summary. Oppenheimer's IQ of 135 places him in the 99th percentile of intelligence, while Einstein's estimated IQ is 160, in the genius category. The IQ test oversimplifies intelligence, missing out on factors like creativity and emotional intelligence pivotal for Oppenheimer and Einstein.

What did Einstein say about Oppenheimer? ›

At the IAS, Einstein acquired profound respect for Oppenheimer on his administration skills, and described him as an “unusually capable man of many sided education”.

Why was JFK mentioned in Oppenheimer? ›

JFK Played A Small Role In Lewis Strauss' Failed Senate Appointment. In Oppenheimer, Lewis Strauss' behavior towards the titular Manhattan Project scientist cost him the job of Secretary of Commerce.

Why was Oppenheimer so skinny? ›

Cillian Murphy went to extreme lengths to lose weight for his role in "Oppenheimer." The Irish actor plays the creator of the atom bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, in the movie. His costars say he only ate "like, an almond every day" and looked "emaciated."

What did Feynman think of Oppenheimer? ›

Feynman had elsewhere written, “he was a wonderful man.” But they didn't hold him in high regard as a working physicist. The problem was he still pretended to be one. There was too much pretending. Oppenheimer was an extraordinary man who did a great deal for American physics.

What is the flaw in the Oppenheimer movie? ›

Moviegoers have pointed out a flaw in a scene where Cillian Murphy's J. Robert Oppenheimer stands in a crowd of people waving U.S. flags. The mistake in question? The number of stars on those flags.

What do Japanese people think about the Oppenheimer movie? ›

Broadly, though, many Japanese viewers expressed discomfort with Oppenheimer's storytelling and felt the portrayal was incomplete. “The film was only about the side that dropped the A-bomb,” Tsuyuko Iwanai, a Nagasaki resident, told NPR. “I wish they had included the side it was dropped on.”

Did Truman disrespect Oppenheimer? ›

You just don't go around bellyaching about it,” Truman said, according to the book Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center by Ray Monk. He called Oppenheimer a “cry-baby scientist” and said, “I don't want to see that son of a b–– in this office ever again.”

Who was Oppenheimer's nemesis? ›

Strauss was the driving force behind physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance hearing, held in April and May 1954 before an AEC Personnel Security Board, in which Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked. As a result, Strauss often has been regarded as a villain in American history.

Was Oppenheimer a genius? ›

Hollywood movie aside, just how good a physicist was Oppenheimer? Hacker News. Oppenheimer was a genius, but his superpower was being good at both theoretical and practical physics. He did Nobel-prize level work and also ran the Manhattan Project.

What did Oppenheimer say at the end? ›

Oppenheimer asks Einstein whether he recalls the two men having a conversation about whether setting off an atomic explosion could set the whole world on fire. “I believe we did,” Oppenheimer concludes.

What did Oppenheimer say to Einstein? ›

Oppenheimer asks Einstein if he recalls when they worried a chain reaction from the bomb might destroy the world; Einstein remembers. “I believe we did,” Oppenheimer replies. Though the exchange came from Nolan's imagination, it really ends the movie with a bang. This article has been updated.

Did Oppenheimer actually quote the Bhagavad Gita? ›

Robert Oppenheimer while looking at the erupting fireball from the atomic bomb explosion in Los Alamos, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” These words are a a paraphrase of Bhagavad Gita 11:32 where Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu – whom many Hindus think of as the supreme ...

What is Oppenheimer most famous for? ›

Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was an American theoretical physicist. During the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer was director of the Los Alamos Laboratory and responsible for the research and design of an atomic bomb. He is often known as the “father of the atomic bomb.”

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