Oppenheimer: sex, death and the impending apocalypse – discuss the spoilers | Oppenheimer

J Robert Oppenheimer’s apocalyptic legacy has haunted modern politics and culture, but his personal story is no obvious blockbuster. It would take a filmmaker of the talent and Hollywood clout of Christopher Nolan to pull it off.

Oppenheimer opened in the United States last weekend with a box office of $82 million, second only to Barbie’s gargantuan $162 million. The instincts of Nolan and his backers at Universal Studios have been rewarded in a way that hopefully bodes well for the future of big-budget movies about tough subjects (Nolan isn’t the only purveyor of such work, but there isn’t much around).

There’s really no need for a spoiler alert here. There is a great explosion of impressive shots in the film, even if it is far from the denouement of the play. But there’s plenty to discuss, starting with the implications of Oppenheimer’s story for the world. And for that, we have to reveal the last lines of the movie.

Albert Einstein and the Destroyer of Worlds

Tom Conti as Albert Einstein and Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer.
A devastating moment… Tom Conti as Albert Einstein and Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer. Photography: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

The film ends with a conversation between the godfather of the nuclear bomb and Albert Einstein in 1947, in which Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) reminds the German-born theoretical physicist he had once approached him about fears that his project “destroy the whole world”. ”. Einstein, played by Tom Conti, says, “So what?” To which Oppenheimer replies, “I believe we did.”

It’s a devastating moment and it’s the emotional charge of the film, followed by a montage featuring rows of nuclear missiles, vapor trails of projectiles piercing the sky, the planet consumed by fire – and the face hit by Oppenheimer.

The excellent biography on which the film is based, American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin, details Oppenheimer’s regrets and attempts to rein in the monster he created. (I should note here that, in real life, Oppenheimer consulted another physicist, Arthur Compton, about his apocalyptic concerns.) There are clear parallels with modern, artificial intelligence, the creators of which are now calling for the development of technology. tamed.

Nolan told the Guardian that there are “very strong parallels” between Oppenheimer and the AI ​​community. It should be noted that signatories to a letter calling for a six-month pause in AI development this year included Elon Musk, an early backer of ChatGPT OpenAI developer, Turing Award winner Yoshua Bengio ( or “Nobel Prize in Computing”) and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. As with Oppenheimer, has the tech community waited too late to face the potential consequences of their accomplishments?

Cillian Murphy: best man for the job?

Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer.
Impressive… Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer. Photograph: Melinda Sue Gordon/AP

Murphy’s credentials are unmistakable, with a resume that includes Peaky Blinders and critical hits such as Sunshine. His performance at Oppenheimer is even more impressive in the context of Bird and Sherwin’s nuanced and diligent biography, which portrays an individual as complex as one would expect a highly successful theoretical physicist to be. If there’s one detail Murphy captures in particular, it’s Oppenheimer’s soft voice and, of course, their similar appearance (Murphy, at 47, is around the same age Oppenheimer was, at 41 years old, when the bomb was first tested in 1945).

Other performances also feel true to the book: Matt Damon as gruff Lt Gen Leslie Groves, the project’s military overseer and a key supporter of the enigmatic Oppenheimer; Emily Blunt as the scientist’s alcoholic wife, Kitty; Robert Downey Jr as Oppenheimer’s vindictive nemesis Lewis Strauss, who pursued his target with a zeal that seemed to be based on perceived personal slights rather than patriotic principle; and Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr, the Danish quantum genius who makes a brief appearance as the film’s seer and moral conscience. Einstein was ambivalent about Oppenheimer’s theoretical work, and as played by Conti, he is at least an enigmatic figure in the film.

Too much taste?

Oppenheimer is very clear about his focus on the protagonist…Robert Downey Jr as Lewis Strauss.
Oppenheimer is very clear about his focus on the protagonist…Robert Downey Jr as Lewis Strauss. Photograph: Melinda Sue Gordon/AP

The film shows the very first nuclear explosion in an impressively staged sequence but does not show what followed: the use of the weapon on civilian targets in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It drew criticism from a nuclear activist, who told the Guardian the result was an “unbalanced” film, with the impact of the explosions in Japan instead portrayed by a near-nightmare sequence where Oppenheimer is mobbed by disturbing visions in a supposedly triumphant speech to Manhattan Project workers in Los Alamos.

“The effect of [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] blasts was to remove skin in a much more bloody and gruesome way – in the film, it was tastefully and artfully presented. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you look at pictures of real survivors and read accounts of what happened to them, it was a gruesome and bloody death,” said branch co-chair Carol Turner. of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Nolan says he felt that “deviating from Oppenheimer’s experience would betray the terms of the storytelling” and Oppenheimer is very clear about his focus on the protagonist, hence a final act that dwells extensively on Strauss’ successful attempt to smear the scientist’s reputation by having his security clearance revoked.

Sanskrit sex

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, left, and Murphy as Oppenheimer.
Criticized… Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, left, and Murphy as Oppenheimer. Photograph: Melinda Sue Gordon/AP

Nolan has been criticized for portraying female characters in his previous films, and Oppenheimer has drawn similar comments. A scene between Oppenheimer and Jean Tatlock, his former partner then lover, interpreted by Florence Pugh, was criticized by India’s Information Commissioner because it features Oppenheimer reciting a passage from the Bhagavad Gita (a favorite Oppenheimer text) in the middle of intercourse. Murphy said the scene was “not gratuitous” and was “powerful”. Blunt’s Kitty, a trained botanist, has crucial scenes – especially during her security clearance hearing – but the male scientists dominate the film (as they dominated the Manhattan Project itself).

Does Nolan get enough for his money?

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer.
Old-fashioned aspects… Oppenheimer’s explosive centerpiece eschews digital visual effects. Photography: Universal Pictures

Oppenheimer’s explosive centerpiece eschews digital visual effects and instead recreates the Trinity Test via analog tricks such as camera perspective and plenty of gasoline, propane, and magnesium flares. The other dated aspect of the movie, and an undeniable positive, is that it’s an unapologetically talking movie. This is what the subject deserves.

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