Oppenheimer: A Sweeping Nonlinear Tale of Power, Responsibility, Legacy, and Consequences


Oppenheimer is directed and written by Christopher Nolan, Starring Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey, Jr., Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, and Benny Safdie. Filmed in IMAX 65 mm, both in color and black-and-white (developed specifically for Oppenheimer), Nolan's latest is a mammoth achievement. Like Tenet, it's less a narrative and more of a vehicle Nolan uses to ask viewers to wrestle with big ideas like power, responsibility, legacy, and consequences. 

Oppenheimer is a biopic based on American Prometheus by Kai Bird, incepted into the screenplay of Tenet in a scene between Priya and the protagonist. It's a complicated portrayal of a man divided. His brain is filled with possibility, but it's the terrible possibility that he can give the world the power to destroy itself.


Christopher Nolan frames Oppenheimer through the frame of the Oppenheimer security hearings held in 1945 by the US Atomic Energy Commission. The committee had to decide whether or not his security clearance would be renewed. During the trial, we see the events referred to during the trial and get to make our own judgment. Even though the point of the story isn't the trial, this offers a clever device that allows viewers to consider the man from a distance and close-up. 

Release info: Comes to theaters July 20, 2023

Final score: 4 out of 5

Transcript of episode recording

00:54:58 Hello everyone. I'm here for one of my stories. This is Lindsey Dunn. and it's finally time.

00:55:28 I am here to do a review of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer.

00:55:35 Yes, it's finally time the summer blockbuster my most anticipated movie of the year has finally come out and it is a mammoth of the movie.

00:56:23 This movie is written and directed by Christopher Nolan and shot specifically. For IMAX screening.

00:56:34 I definitely recommend you see this one on the big screen and on the IMAX screen if possible.

00:57:35 This is movie is a complicated portrayal of a man. Divided, divided in mind. Divided in what he should do.

00:57:47 His brain is filled with the possibilities what he called the terrible possibility. That he can give, he knew he could give the world the ability to destroy itself.

00:58:04 And he had this quote that he said and is in the movie. "I am become death the destroyer of worlds."

00:58:16 Oppenheimer was a man driven to complete the task of making the atom bomb and being able to launch it and harness this power.

00:58:29 He was fascinated by the science that would allow him to be able to do this. And at the same time, horrified by its possibilities.

00:58:42 The story is based on the non-fiction book American Prometheus by Kai Bird and this was also incepted into the last Christopher Nolan movie, which was Tenet. During a conversation between the protagonist and the character Priya, they discuss Oppenheimer.

00:59:36 The framing of this story is set during the Oppenheimer security hearings that were held in 1954 by the US Atomic Energy Commission.

00:59:51 During which, they had to decide whether or not Oppenheimer's security clearance would be renewed.

01:00:01 So this is a nonlinear take on that event. That is the main frame. But as we are in this trial and they speak about certain events, we see those events portrayed on screen -- sometimes multiple times.

01:00:29 And so we are learning about this character of Oppenheimer. And Christopher Nolan chooses to do this by framing specifically this trial that became a key part of his life.

01:00:43 You might wonder why Nolan frames the story through the trial. While the creation of the atomic bomb and all that went into that was a key moment, this trial decided how America and how history would remember him, at least for the moment.

01:01:03 And how people would think about him and his legacy. This trial for him was a key defining moment in his life that decided his fate.

01:01:17 And so Christopher Nolan chooses to center the events on that trial, while at the same time looking closely at those events he was on trial for. It's a very clever framing device done nonlinearly. After all this is a Christopher Nolan movie, and he likes to play with time.

01:01:47 And speaking of being a Christopher Nolan movie, this has his mark by being about these big ideas that he wants us to wrestle with.

01:02:03 Big ideas that he wants to present and make us think about. Ideas like power. And greatness. And consequences and loyalty.

01:02:16 And the redefining of our world.

01:02:34 Oppenheimer knew that what he did during the Manhattan project would create a chain reaction that could never be stopped.

01:02:45 The terrible power that he actually granted to the rest of the world and by remembered by. Christopher Nolan wants us to wrestle with that, too. Oppenheimer is on trial here, and we are also his jury.

01:03:26 In order to bring this story to life, Christopher Nolan chose a very extensive and specific cast.

01:03:33 Of course, in the main role. Is Cillian Murphy playing J. Robert Oppenheimer.

01:03:40 His mesmerizing blue eyes engulf you on screen -- eyes that are haunted by what he's done and what he can do.

01:03:54 It's very much an interior look into this man that is so mysterious and who we can never fully understand.

01:04:06 The movie frames his parts of the story in color and actually makes it a first person perspective.

01:04:29 This is in one sense, of course, a biopic about Oppenheimer and this is a great example of how you want to do biopic.

01:04:41 Which is you don't want to be a Wikipedia page where you're just spewing out facts that people could go online and read for themselves.

01:04:50 The way this is done, the way Cillian Murphy acts and Christopher Nolan directs Cillian and the people around him shows an interpretation of how Oppenheimer felt.

01:05:08 About himself and felt about what he was doing. The way that it's acted gives us great insight into his interior life as depicted by the book American Prometheus.

01:05:58 Probably second only to Cillian Murphy in the importance for this movie would be Robert Downey Jr.

01:06:09 Playing Lewis Strauss, who is the founding commissioner of that atomic US Atomic Energy Commission.

01:06:19 And he becomes the nemesis. Of Oppenheimer. They are 2 men that are from very different worlds.

01:06:30 They are the primary vehicles for this story and the comparison that Nolan is making.

01:06:40 Between these 2 men and their versions of greatness and what they think that means. And what their ultimate goals are.

01:06:50 Nolan portrays Strauss as a man who desperately wants approval and importance, whereas Oppenheimer is not in it for human praise really. He's in it for the science and the possibility.

01:07:14 And he's driven by something beyond human approval. And so I appreciate how they interpret these characters to give us that insight.

01:07:31 Robert Downey Jr. As you we know, a lot of people think of him as Iron Man.

01:07:37 And before that, he often played cocky characters.

01:07:47 And so this is. Kind of nice to see him in a different kind of role. As a character and as a person he's portraying.

01:08:01 He is a man who is on the outside.

01:08:21 Someone who on the outside seems to have it all together. And is in it for the good of the country, but yet he has this interior drive that is weaselly. On the inside he's a small man in some ways. Because of his desperation to be liked and be important.

01:11:39 But this is just a few of the many casted characters and Christopher Nolan. And his casting director spent obviously spent a lot of time picking people that would take these role seriously no matter how minor that they may seem on the page no matter how many few seconds these people are on the screen he made sure they all took it seriously and knew the assignment.

01:13:33 So as I said before, this is filmed in IMAX for IMAX. It's filmed in 65 mm and makes use of both color and black-and-white film. The sections that are in color are from the perspective of Oppenheimer and they're done in first person where the black and white

01:13:53 The black-and-white section are filmed from Strauss's perspective and is done almost more in a documentary style and at a distance because the movie clearly does not want us to relate to his character.

01:14:06 He is filmed from an external view. They do give him the respect to for us to get to know why he's doing what he's doing, but he's definitely viewed as an antagonist, not necessarily the main antagonist, but he is an antagonist in the movie.

01:14:36 So the movie does not want us to relate to him, although the movie wants us to. Understand him.

01:14:47 And Christopher Nolan always does paint his antagonists. In a way that we can relate to them.

01:15:27 And if I didn't say so already, I wanna go back to Cillian Murphy. He does an excellent job playing this character and I feel like Christopher Nolan has been waiting just for the right moment to feature him as a main character.

01:15:43 He's been a supporting character in several of Christopher Nolan's films. But this because, you know.

01:15:55 He's been a supporting character in many of Christopher Nolan's films. But it's very obvious that Nolan must have a great deal of respect to him to give him this kind of role that had this level of depth.

01:16:28 Now I talked a little bit already about the themes, but just know the point of this movie isn't for us to know whether or not he was indeed a communist.

01:16:39 Although that's definitely something you'll have ideas about after this movie, but the point of the story isn't necessarily the trial itself.

01:17:04 But it goes back to that terrible possibility. And the burden that was placed in some ways upon Oppenheimer.

01:17:13 Both before and after he was given this role. They wanted him in this role. They wanted him to make the great fire.

01:17:24 To make the power to give them the power that they could destroy themselves. And they wanted him in that role.

01:17:32 And then when they no longer had a use for him or he did not go with the flow.

01:17:42 They were ready to discard him like a piece of trash. And so the movie kind of is about that too.

01:17:50 And how this country or perhaps any country which treats those with great minds. That when people foster these great minds.

01:18:04 And unleash these powers, they don't always think through the consequences of that. And perhaps Oppenheimer himself hadn't thought about the consequences.

01:18:15 Until it was a little too late, but he did. In the aftermath they do show that he thought about his work differently because he saw the consequences.

01:18:29 He then changed when it came to the next type of bomb, which was the H bomb. He had a different viewpoint on.

01:18:41 How much he wanted to support that and how much he wanted to contribute to that. Because he saw those consequences and he learned from that.

01:19:12 It's about the power. It's about the responsibility and the consequences and the burden. That comes with having this intellectual mind that Oppenheimer has.

01:19:26 But we also have this character of Strauss and Nolan makes a point. To sort of compare and contrast these people.

01:19:37 So Strauss was this, like I said, a very polite guy, but underneath he had this bitterness that he kept hidden.

01:19:48 He wanted to be great. And he felt like he was kept from that because of Oppenheimer.

01:19:59 And so he held this grudge and he patiently waited. And built up his resentment.

01:20:11 As opposed to Oppenheimer who is on the outside a little pompous. A little introverted a little hard to read.

01:20:23 He's not necessarily saying. All the words, although he could be very persuasive. But he wasn't seeking popularity or titles in the end that meant less to him.

01:20:40 Then doing what he thought was right or what he needed to do. To protect his country. And to keep evil from taking over the world.

01:20:52 Those were his 2 main motives. As portrayed in this movie.

01:21:00 And so in the end with these 2 people, we see how people saw them differently. Then the Oppenheimer was kind of put through the wringer.

01:21:12 He had friends that testified against him. During these trials they had differences of opinion. We do see Albert Einstein who had a difference of opinion and spoke it.

01:21:33 Spoke it fervently in front of Oppenheimer, but he still had a respect from Oppenheimer he would walk with him he would talk with him he would give him his time. Oppenheimer is a person that  commanded respect. As opposed to Strauss.

01:22:00 Who seems like he has all the refinements.

01:22:07 But in the end, the way he's portrayed is that he's a very small man and that even the people that were assigned to help him.

01:22:18 Were sort of happy when he got called out for some of his shady behavior.

01:22:25 So it very much gets it that thing of. Integrity and what you do matters in that people do form an opinion about you and even if they disagree with your decisions.

01:22:39 They can still respect who you are. And be able to still shake your hand. At the end of the day.

01:23:49 And of course, it's a Christopher Nolan movie. So we're going to talk about

01:23:54 Memories and how we remember things and like I said before there are scenes in this movie That we see multiple times.

01:24:04 We see them perhaps we see them in black and white first and then we see them in color. But it kind of gets the idea of You don't always have all the information.

There's in particular a scene where Albert Einstein is by the water and he loses his hat.

01:24:33 We see that scene I believe 3 or 4 times. And finally, at the end, we get to see the whole picture.

01:24:42 And because of this one moment. Strauss had a lifetime of resentment for Oppenheimer.

01:24:57 Strauss felt sure that Oppenheimer must have said something. To Albert Einstein that made him dislike Strauss.

01:25:05 And that's a true thing. I mean, I don't know if that event is true, but I'm saying people do that.

01:25:13 They will see 2 people talking. Across the room and assume that Somebody's talking badly about them and out of that can manifest a lifetime of grudges.

01:25:26 So I thought that was very realistically done and I really admire Christopher Nolan for that.

01:25:44 Some of the great features of this movie are going to always be the way it's filmed. We have director of photography.

01:25:53 Hoyte van Hoytema Who does all of the wonderful filming. And then the music by my boy, Ludwig Goransson, shout out to him.

01:26:06 He does. Amazing things with this score again and the sound design. Oh my gosh is so amazing.

01:26:15 No, there are so many scenes. Where Oppenheimer is in a room. And he inside of his head is experiencing things.

01:26:29 That are different than the rest of the people in the room because of what is going on inside of him.

01:26:36 And they do with the, they bring this out with the sound design. That there is this unsettling thing inside of him this drive.

01:26:49 This thing coming for him this machine this industrial machine that is just out to destroy the world and nobody else can see it.

01:27:00 And they do this beautifully with both the photography and the sound and the music. And so it's just excellently done.

01:27:28 One in the key scenes in the movie is also going to be the Trinity test, which a lot of people think that Christopher Nolan actually set off an actual atom bomb.

01:27:41 But no, it's a interpretation or a version of an atomic explosion.

01:28:03 I'm not even gonna try to describe what I saw on the screen, but just know that it's done very well.

01:28:11 I had my hands. Up against my mouth. Just soaking in the moment. And so again.

01:28:20 Kudos. Really, Christopher Nolan has outdone himself in this movie. So you might be wondering.

01:28:31 Obviously I have a lot of love for this movie. I have a lot of love for Christopher Nolan and the effort.

01:28:38 That he put into this. So did he pull it all off? Well, there's a lot of plates in the air.

01:28:45 This is movie is a Hydra. And there's a lot of plates spinning, a lot of things that he wanted to touch on.

01:28:54 A lot of themes, a lot of characters, a lot of moments. Did he tie it together?

01:29:00 I believe so. Is this a perfect film? No. There might be a little padding.

01:29:10 There might be some scenes that went through really fast and I didn't quite. Get exactly what he was doing might need a couple of watches.

01:29:22 But this is a wonderful achievement.

01:29:39 Which besides Dunkirk, this is only the second historical movie he's done where he gets at a realistic event.

01:29:50 We know him as the sci-fi and thriller guy. And so this is this is quite something having him dive into this specific incident, which in so many ways.

01:30:04 Ties into themes he's been exploring all of his life and bringing to us. So it's not a perfect movie, but Christopher Nolan does manage to juggle all the plates.

01:30:17 And bring it home for me. So those are my thoughts about the movie. I hope you enjoyed this review.