Oppenheimer (2023) by Christopher Nolan

A complex, multi-layered, very dense film, Oppenheimer sums up all the themes of Christopher Nolan’s cinema, grafting them into a container (a biopic) that just doesn’t seem very suitable for experimentation. The result is a popular and cinematic work that is likely to go down in history as a milestone in the director’s career.

movie explosion

Movie Christopher Nolan, whatever the topic, will always be to some extent an “event”, both for the general public and for the more purely cinephiles: over the years, the American director has really managed to cope with Kubrikian – and the comparison is a bold one) a large number of genres and directions, preserving at the heart of each work some strong main themes (thinking about time, perception of reality, its decomposition and possible rereading). If there were so much curiosity about Oppenheimer – apart from a cast so full of stars it’s almost impossible to list them – mainly depends on the fact that Nolan here for the first time refers to the biopic genre: lived, apparently far from his poetics, where the narrative of events runs the risk of going hand in hand with didacticism, and the inevitable narrative “trace” apparently does not leave the author much freedom of action. However, as with many previous films (think sci-fi films), Interstellaror to a war movie Dunkirk) V Oppenheimer Nolan analyzes and assembles the genre in parallel with the narration, multiplies the temporal planes, chromatic tones, even the rhythms of the narration. The result is a very dense work, both similar and different from his previous work; a kind of experiment on how much cinema can play with the sensory aspect – as in Dunkirk sound and music work is very important, as well as providing your own reading of a clearly linear story. Apparently, because if there is one thing that Nolan’s new film destroys, according to the author’s narrative setting, it’s linearity. But not legibility, as one might assume.

Three timelines, one tipping event

Oppenheimer, Cillian Murphy at the time of the film
Oppenheimer, Cillian Murphy during Christopher Nolan’s film

The film is inspired by the biographical book. American Prometheus: Triumph and Tragedy by J. Robert Oppenheimer, written by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin, describing the life and work of a scientist widely regarded as the father of the atomic bomb. The period considered in the story is, in particular, the period beginning with the engagement of Oppenheimer (with a capital letter Cillian Murphy) in General Leslie Groves’ Manhattan Project (performed by Matt Damon): we are in 1942 and the goal is to defeat the Germans in creating a weapon of total destruction that could “save the world at the risk of destroying it”; but the unofficial goal is also to keep under control and at the same time warn the current Soviet ally, who will clearly already be the next enemy. And it is precisely the projection into the future, first evoked and then shown with increasing insistence – and making it more and more urgent – that is one of the leitmotifs of the narrative. Oppenheimer: a nightmare of a possible holocaust on the one hand, enclosed in chilling visions and real-life nightmares of the protagonist, played by Cillian Murphy, and two timelines gradually joining the main one, not accidentally chromatically distinct from it in the magnificent photographs of Hoyt van Hoytema. The chromatic density of the present to represent the world even before the tipping event of the bombing; the desaturated tones of an intermediate faction, the one that depicts a physicist accused in the McCarthy era in a tiny metal room; and finally a black and white depiction of the world in 1959 when the iron curtain finally came down and that’s Lewis Strauss’s ambitions interpreted (again masterfully in this case) Robert Downey Jr.to dominate the world, now divided into blocks. There will be an explosion between them that will become a watershed: not (yet) the explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which the director does not include in the frame – because there is a limit to what can be filmed, and, paradoxically, there is a limit to what can be filmed. necessary shoot – but the one in the New Mexico desert, with the Trinity test, which actually represented the first acquaintance with the power of a nuclear device.

Words and images

Oppenheimer, Benny Safdie in a scene from the film
Oppenheimer, Benny Safdie in a scene from Christopher Nolan’s film

Having a generous length (exactly three hours), but never, as in this case, justified narratively and thematically, Oppenheimer it is a dense film, but at the same time deliberately unequal in pace: a work divided into the first hour, in which events, characters, storylines and themes accumulate – in a deliberate narrative bulimia that requires the viewer to have increased attention, but also a good readiness to accept jumps in space and time – and the next part, which accelerates, completing each separate narrative thread, giving consistency to the characters and, above all, following the embodiment in reality – both less and more apocalyptic than expected – of his visions. Everything is filtered by one glance of the eponymous character; “gaze” was conceived not only as a perception filtered by the organ of vision, but also as an inner gaze, an inner monologue, shameless ambition, mixed with an increasingly present longing. Finally, repentance, when the legacy of a person’s death, the horrendous responsibility he has taken upon himself, and the (im)possible choice to save what can be saved becomes apparent. And in the bitter realization of how late it is. Nolan achieves all this with a very large number of dialogues (Oppenheimerof all his filmography, perhaps the most talked about film of all time), but also close-ups that say a lot about the main character and his evolution: this was facilitated by Murphy’s exceptional performance. Oppenheimer turns out to be a work in perfect balance between dialogues and images, between the verbal translation of what cannot be photographed (the explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and the plastic visual reproduction of what words cannot convey (the anguish and torment of one who has become both a monster and the savior of the world).

wonderful synthesis

Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr.  in a movie scene
Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr. in a scene from a Christopher Nolan film

With its complexity and layering, the bold construction of a story that can be thoughtful, demanding and dense, but at the same time absolutely legible, Oppenheimer As such, it could be a watershed of sorts for Christopher Nolan’s cinematography, covering all the major themes of the director’s cinematography: reflections on perception and time. I rememberall-consuming ambition Prestigeexistential anxiety – also associated with the elements of time and memory – Interstellarphysical exploration of mind spaces (and its labyrinths) Origin AND the keeper. Everything is wrapped up in the container of the biopic, in a shell that is intentionally upside down and overturned, undermined in its foundations, but never so exalted in its potential; just as the potential of an ensemble cast is maximized, in which everyone is placed in the right box (to the names already mentioned, we add two prominent female presences – Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh, as well as, among others, the faces of Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Clarke, Jack Quaid, Josh Hartnett, Matthew Modine, Rami Malek and Benny Safdie); and, above all, a majestic rendering of a 70mm film to be played and enjoyed on the largest possible screen and in conditions as close as possible to those desired by its author. An essay on what else analogue has to offer, as well as how the extraordinary modernity of a language can (and perhaps should) go hand in hand with the recovery, reuse and improvement of technologies rooted in the past. Few filmmakers can express this synthesis with such completeness.


Oppenheimer, Italian movie poster



Original name: Oppenheimer
Director: Christopher Nolan
Country/year: UK, USA / 2023
Duration: 180′
Type: Drama, Biography, History
Throw: Florence Pugh, Cillian Murphy, Jason Clarke, Matt Damon, David Dastmalchian, Gary Oldman, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Robert Downey Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Benny Safdie, Dane DeHaan, Emily Blunt, Kenneth Branagh, Tony Goldwyn, Alex Wolfe Emma Dumont, Gustav Skarsgård, Matthew Modine, Matthias Schweigöfer, David Krumholtz, David Rysdael, Devon Bostick, Dylan Arnold, Guy Burnet, Jack Quaid, Josh Hartnett, Josh Peck, Danny DeFerrari, James D’Arcy, James Remar, Josh Zuckerman Louise Lombard, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Scott Grimes, Tom Conti
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan
Photo: Hoyt Van Hoytema
Assembly: Jennifer Lame
Music: Ludwig Goransson
Director: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas
Production house: Syncopy, Universal Pictures, Atlas Entertainment
Distribution: Universal Pictures

Release date: 08/23/2023


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Journalist and film critic. I am or have collaborated with various online and print publications including (in chronological order) L’Acchiappafilm, Movieplayer.it and Quinlan.it. Since 2018, I have been a consultant for the Stelle Diverse and Aspie Saturday Film psychoeducational reviews organized by the CuoreMenteLab center in Rome. In 2019, I founded the website Asbury Movies, of which I am the Editor and Managing Director.

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