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A three-hour epic by visual perfectionist Christopher Nolan chronicling the development of the atomic bomb and the internal struggle of its "father", J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cilian Murphy)


Recent mainstream big productions have often not been about much, to put it mildly. There has been a lot of progress when it comes to the representation of people of color, women, and queer people, there were also several (anti-) war films with humanist messages, but it‘s been a long time since there has been anything as powerfully political as Christopher Nolan‘s OPPENHEIMER about the survival of humanity. Those who grew up on Nolan‘s BATMAN films, Marvel and DC comic adaptations, have to regard OPPENHEIMER as an out and out masterpiece.

OPPENHEIMER is the right film at the right time. The likelihood of the destruction of the world due to a war with nuclear bombs, hydrogen bombs, and neutron bombs is higher than it has been in decades, yet the threat of nuclear weapons is barely mentioned in public debate, disarmament initiatives aren‘t in sight. Nolan‘s film is three hours long, and even though OPPENHEIMER is heavy on dialogue – unlike Nolan‘s DUNKIRK, which could‘ve worked as a silent film – and even though the heart of the story is quite familiar, the film is incredibly tense throughout. OPPENHEIMER is visually impressive, dramaturgically refined, and Christopher Nolan‘s pacifism is absolutely convincing and relevant.

It‘s about the development of the nuclear bomb, the decision to bombard Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though the war in Europe had already been won and the Japanese army was largely decimated, and about the beginning of the arms race between Russia and the US which began with the building of the hydrogen bomb. Nolan shows us three timelines: in 1953, J.Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) explains his resume in front of a commission that will decide whether Oppenheimer will be subjected to the “security guarantee,“ In a later (fictional) hearing, there‘s debate over whether Oppenheimer should regain his security clearance and Oppenheimer‘s opponent gets indicted. In reality, Oppenheimer was only fully rehabilitated in 2022, however, even though he was barred from the nuclear commission in 1954, he received the Enrico Fermi Prize by the US nuclear commission in 1963, on a proposal from Lyndon B. Johnson.

Everything begins with Robert Oppenheimer‘s cosmic dreams as a student. Images reminiscent of Terrence Malick‘s TREE OF LIFE: the vibration of elementary particles, but also the world‘s unstoppable destruction. It‘s not enough to learn the scientific framework of physics, says a scientist to Oppenheimer: “can you hear the music?“ Nolan shows a montage of Oppenheimer looking at modern art and literature afterwards: cubism, T.S. Eliot, Picasso. However, these aesthetic dimensions don‘t play a role later on.

Oppenheimer gets politicized by the fascist coup and the Spanish Civil War. His friends are communists. Oppenheimer is staunchly anti-fascist, supports republicanism and wants to found a science union, but immediately distances himself from it when he is made aware of how it could jeopardize his career. However, he is engaged enough to have sex with chic communist Jean Tadlock (Florence Pugh). The scenes between Jean and Robert show that Nolan can make fantastically constructed films , but doesn‘t have a good handle on interpersonal relationships. When naked Jean asks naked Robert to translate a few sentences in Sanskrit and Oppenheimer utters the famous quote “now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds,“ and she sits on his penis afterwards, it is more unintentionally funny than existentially transgressive.

All in all, that doesn‘t impact the film much. Nolan is interested in ideas, not in relationships. Even when his characters go through inner conflicts or are frustrated, the reason for it is more important than their expression. His actors primarily have to show that it reverberates within them while exuding cold stoicism. Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer and Robert Downey Jr. As Lewis Strauss, the head of the nuclear commission, manage to juggle that the best. This double acting, showing a facade with something else lurking beneath, is often the cornerstone of an Oscar nomination, like Greta Garbo as the Lady of Camellias, the prostitute, whose job it is to pretend to love, but who actually really does love, and only pretends to have professionally seduced. An Oscar performance also requires one to drop the facade at least once. This doesn‘t happen here, and that‘s a good thing.

For Nolan, it isn‘t about actorly feats, it is about precision. It usually works, even though Nolan has developed an authenticity fetish which isn‘t always a good thing. After the bombing, Oppenheimer holds a speech in front of the scientific community. He doesn‘t know what to say, that is how internally torn he is, but the audience (consisting of real scientists, because Nolan thinks they can look more intelligently) is cheering and happy, as if someone had just cured cancer. The scientists playing scientists can‘t find the right tone, but in order for us all to understand what the problem is, Nolan cuts images of the bomb victims in between the images of the cheering audience. This is laying it on a bit thick.

Conversely, there‘s a fantastic scene in which the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is discussed even though the war in Europe is over and the Japanese army is destroyed. “I took off Kyoto from the list, because of its cultural meaning for the Japanese. And because my wife and I had our honeymoon there. Such a beautiful city,“ says a military man. Oppenheimer defends the bombing because he pretends to believe that such a deterring example would mean the end of all wars. The enthusiasm in the whole scene belies all arguments, without using any cuts or cinematic showpieces.

Nolan‘s film sends cold shivers down your spine again and again. OPPENHEIMER is a fantastic, thrilling, shocking, and important film.


Translation: Elinor Lewy


USA 2023, 180 min
Genre: Drama, Biography, Historical Film
Director: Christopher Nolan
Author: Christopher Nolan
DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Montage: Jennifer Lame
Music: Ludwig Goransson
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt, Kenneth Branagh, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Quaid, Rami Malek
Release: 20.07.2023



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USA 2023 | Drama, Biography, Historical Film | R: Christopher Nolan

A three-hour epic by visual perfectionist Christopher Nolan chronicling the development of the atomic bomb and the internal struggle of its "father", J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cilian Murphy)


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Friday 01.12.

TicketsReservation: https://www.kino-intimes.de/tickets OmU16:45

Wednesday 06.12.

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU12:35

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