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Oppenheimer: A Cinematic Symphony of Action and Emotion

Most of us haven’t heard about J. Robert Oppenheimer as his story or background was not included in our school textbooks. After all, the story of father of the atomic bomb does not make for appropriate textbook content. Oppenheimer, the film, offers a refresher course on this subject. The film follows the life of American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and is based on his 2005 biography American Prometheus. The movie covers Oppenheimer’s early research, his leadership of the Manhattan Project during World War II, and his final fall as a result of his 1954 security hearing.

The movie, directed by the visionary director Christopher Nolan, transports viewers on an electrifying trip that combines thrilling action scenes, immersive aural design, outstanding performances, breathtaking visuals, and flawless direction. The cast ensemble includes Cillian Murphy who plays the titular character, Emily Blunt as his wife Katherine "Kitty" Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss, a senior member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Matt Damon as Leslie Groves, the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Florence Pugh as psychiatrist and Oppenheimer’s mistress Jean Tatlock. Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Josh Hartnett, and Kenneth Branagh make up the supporting cast as a whole. The beginning of the movie is a bit shocking as we find a young 22 year old Oppenheimer under stress that he almost ends up poisoning his professor Patrick Blackett at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. The moment when Oppenheimer is allotted the Manhattan Project, he realises that he would be playing an important part in events that will change the course of humanity.

‘Regret’ is a theme in all Christopher Nolan’s movies; here Oppenheimer regrets the fact that the step taken by him will cost millions of lives. Cillian Murphy, the actor that plays the character Oppenheimer, looks gaunt, probably due to sleepless nights, millions of thoughts negotiating in his mind, not able to think straight. Here is a man who knows he is going to fall one day as his knowledge is power for already those who have power. Oppenheimer despite being hours long, is a relief in itself because of Nolan’s straightforwardness. One tends to get lost in the narrative structure of the movie as there are four different timelines.

The performances in Oppenheimer are nothing less than extraordinary. Each actor gives their characters depth and authenticity under the direction of an accomplished ensemble cast.  I may sound biased but what I don’t like about Christopher Nolan movies is that the women characters are not given much significance. Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr, Matt Damon cover most of the screen time in the movie, Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh are mostly these sad, unsatisfied women who just appear on the screen when needed. The movie is brought to a whole new level by Ludwig Göransson’s orchestral score. It brilliantly complements the action on film, highlighting emotional beats and enhancing the heart-pounding scenes. The sound effects are also beautifully produced, resulting in a dynamic soundtrack that immerses the audience more into the world of the movie. The movie scenes are a visual treat that transports the audience to diverse and imaginative worlds. Both conventional and digital sets exhibit breathtaking attention to detail, weaving a complex tapestry of visual splendor. The film leaves no stone unturned to emphasize visually the ego and sense of power felt by the chief protagonist- the feeling that he is ‘God’, he is universe. But does he want it? We are left grappling in the dark here. We get to have glimpse of a jovial Albert Einstein (Tom Conti) who is seen throwing stones in a pond and Lewis Strauss remarks, “greatest scientist of our times” which Oppenheimer rebuts stoutly with, “greatest scientist of his time.”

 

The movie Oppenheimer achieves a seamless fusion of action and emotion because of Christopher Nolan's excellent direction. Every frame reveals the director’s vision, demonstrating a remarkable eye for detail and storytelling skill. The movie’s tempo is expertly controlled, giving both the action-packed sequences and the ones that are focused on the characters room to breathe. In order to produce a seamless and emotionally evocative cinematic journey, Christopher Nolan exhibits a tremendous capacity to extract excellent performances from the ensemble and brings together all the technical components. One of the few modern directors working at this tremendous scale, both technically and thematically is Nolan. Nolan chose the 65-millimeter film format (which is projected in 70-millimeter) to create a feeling of monumentality in the picture, working with his excellent cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. Overall I would rate the movie 9.5 out of ten owing to Nolan’s choice of cast, scenic beauty and immense emotion. We hope for an Oscar for this one!

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Dr. Ramandeep Mahal is currently working as an Assistant Professor of English at Guru Nanak Khalsa College Yamunanagar. She received her Doctorate degree from Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana Ambala in 2018. Her research interests include Anglo-American Literature, Indian Writing in English, African Literature. She is the author of more than twenty research papers.

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