Oppenheimer (2023) – Review (Minor Spoilers) How I Learned to Keep Worrying and Still Love the Bomb

To complete the "Barbehnheimer effect," a juxtaposition I did in one day, we arrive at something deeply thought-provoking that many of us might take for granted. This is unmistakably a Christopher Nolan film, bearing a unique quality that, if you'll pardon my French, might be best described as "Je ne sais quoi." As with any Nolan creation, the film doesn't lead you by the hand. For the fullest appreciation and understanding of the characters and events related to the historical figure of Oppenheimer, some background reading or a short documentary about the man may be beneficial. Being an avid history reader, especially on World War II, I found that my prior knowledge enhanced my appreciation of Nolan's artistic approach to the film.


From the movie's outset, Nolan delves into Oppenheimer's life with a swift and relentless pace, likening it to an accelerating neutron smashing a nucleus. This stylistic choice might be seen as either enhancing the narrative or detracting from it, depending on personal taste. The story moves breathlessly, bombarding the audience with scenes and events that escalate to the next point, mimicking a nuclear chain reaction.


While the narrative energy barrels through the story, Nolan also weaves in future events from the perspective of Lewis Strauss, portrayed in black and white film, providing additional context while foreshadowing later revelations.


As the story nears the development of the atomic bomb, Nolan's pacing slows to emphasize the film's core subject, reflecting on the morality of weapon creation and the accusations against Oppenheimer of Communist sympathies. All this is interwoven with elements of family life and another woman. In an unintended irreverent comedic twist, anyone who now has watched Oppenheimer would now come to realize that the famous words of the father of the Atomic bomb of “I’ve become death, destroyer of worlds” was smashing atoms on bed when he remembered it on TV recording.


Ludwig Göransson's powerful soundtrack further elevates the film, though it would have been more effective if balanced better with the dialogue. Moments when the movie focuses on conversation offer a welcome respite, showcasing the strength of the script. This is particularly evident during a scene with the military top brass and Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, as they discuss potential atomic targets.


The climactic scene of the Trinity blast is well-executed through editing, sound editing, and build-up, even if the visual depiction of the explosion itself falls short of impressing. More effective is the portrayal of Oppenheimer's reaction to the Hiroshima bombing, capturing his anxiety, stress, and dread, beautifully framed by Nolan's camera work and editing.


The last hour of the film, focused on Cold War politics and allegations against Oppenheimer, showcases the strong performances of the cast, including Emily Blunt and Robert Downey Jr. Without such acting talent, this portion might have descended into a tedious slog of political and legal wrangling.


In conclusion, "Oppenheimer" is an engaging historical drama that offers an important reminder about our shared past. Although it may not rank as Nolan's most thrilling or accomplished film, it remains a masterful piece, reflecting on enduring themes of humanity and hope. For those interested in further exploring the haunting beauty and destructive force of nuclear weaponry, I recommend watching the documentary, Trinity and Beyond (1995). It offers a perspective on the "Destroyer of Worlds" that Oppenheimer himself warned us about.