Oppenheimer: A Visionary Journey to the End of the World | Review

Nolan's "Oppenheimer" is a human, immersive film exploring the dilemma of creation, destruction, and guilt, set against a backdrop of war and scientific pursuit.
Cillian Murphy in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer

A visionary journey to the end of the world. Christopher Nolan detonates a human, overwhelming, and immersive film.

Film is a matter of perspective. It’s about deciding what to show and what to hide. It’s about committing to a viewpoint, playing with spaces. In school, they call it proxemics; on set, it’s not so straightforward: where to place the camera in relation to the person and their surroundings. In Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan‘s decision centers on where to place the bomb. It cannot be ridden like in Dr. Strangelove. Here, it must be a constant presence. At first coveted, feared. It becomes an obsession that materializes. Then a deceptive ally, yet uncontrollable.

“Are you saying that when we push that button, there’s a chance we destroy the world?”, a worried Matt Damon asks Cillian Murphy. And here lies the key: the end, the apocalypse. It could be a reflection on cinema, on the crisis it’s going through. But Nolan doesn’t want to show us the aspects everyone knows from history books. The decision is to focus on the protagonist, on his Julius Robert Oppenheimer. Hence, there are no images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Oppenheimer tells the story of how tragedy was reached, dwelling on the darker shades. It feels like a war movie. We are still in Dunkirk, the sensation of death is constant. The enemy, the enlistment, the camp built in the desert, the battle consumed in laboratories, racing against time. And it’s here that the human spirit breaks. Nolan’s poetic themes return: wounds that do not heal, passion turning into hatred. And magic transforming into massacre, as in The Prestige.

The dream shatters against reality, in a violent, engulfing cinematic experience. Once again, loneliness, the common being crashing against the endeavor. There’s no need to take off as in Interstellar, here the fate of the planet is in the desert. In the background echoes the eponymous book written by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. But Nolan overturns, reshuffles. He pushes his characters to the limit, making them symbols of a prostrate nation. Who is guilty? Who is innocent? There are no answers. The dilemma goes beyond humanity and reflects on the director. Yet, he does not shy away. He constructs his parable: abandonment, action, awareness, success (but can it really be called that?), and guilt.

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Christian Bale said in the finale of The Dark Knight. That’s how the Batman chose to sacrifice himself to be what people needed. So, who is Oppenheimer for Nolan? A brilliant mind, a torn soul, a wandering spirit unsure of where it’s heading.

But the banality of evil does not take the stage. Oppenheimer is a sweeping cautionary tale, a devastating journey of rebirth. It closes a circle that began in 1998 with Following, when the search for inspiration came from following strangers in the streets. Here, Oppenheimer is as if being pursued, breathless. In three tight, explosive hours, where the inevitable is relentlessly awaited.

Madness mixes with the rationality of science. Creativity, born of the heart, finds its nemesis in ingenuity. The detonation is constant in the protagonist’s visions, in the devilish, incendiary editing, creating an unending storm. It’s a visionary journey towards Armageddon, extremely immersive, from which no one can feel absolved.

Gian Luca Pisacane

Cinematografo, July 20, 2023 [Translated by Chris Montanelli]


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