I think I liked Oppenheimer in the weeks leading up to the release date more than that day. It was the idea of it. Oppenheimer offered the promise of this epic historical film – so big and profound it had to be seen on IMAX. A story full of guilt and science and how they made it happen both in real life and in film. Add in a fantastic marketing spin alongside Barbie and I was completely sold.
So what happened? Well, I was bored. And distracted. And waiting to find a character I liked. The story itself is interesting. A physicist working on a top secret defense weapon and how it weighed on his private and professional life and ultimately altered history. But I couldn’t grasp on to one meaningful feeling (for three long hours). There’s supposed to be some sort of intense pivotal relationship with Jean (Florence Pugh), but it was muddied with shocking visuals that made me cringe. It did nothing to expound on his shame, rather it pronounced his lack of focus. Obviously, the idea of being principled or having any empathy was out the window. The intention felt artistic, but its landing was too abrupt for me.
Technically, there are a lot of good things to say about the sound, the lighting, and the cinematography. The scope of director Christopher Nolan feels experienced, yet brave and takes some creative risks. The intimate blocking of the characters with verbal tensions and shadowy contexts reminded me of some aspects of film noir. The setting and the costumes were flawless (loved Oppenheimer’s hat), and the postures of the different characters felt well researched and performed.
The score. I am so conflicted about this. It felt constant and harrowing and every time I noticed it I was like “shhh… listen.” There was so much dialogue to pay attention to, but somehow the music would interrupt like an entirely separate character or narrator trying to move the story forward. It was at times beautiful and immersive, adding to the pacing. But then it felt like someone uninvited walked in to displace the entire tone of the scene and it was aggravating. The sound and its ambitious role is probably my biggest takeaway from the movie.
I can’t comment on the historical accuracy as this story is all new to me. I only know the headline: Oppenheimer was father of the atomic bomb. Blame my high school curriculum and lack of learning about history. Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss) stood out as well as Emily Blunt (Kitty Oppenheimer) in their supporting roles. I was happy to see Rami Malek (David L. Hill) chime in with the ethical notes.
The most disappointing thing is that I saw this on opening day and I forgot about it by the time the weekend was over. And everyone else seems to love it, so I feel kind of like I’ve missed something.