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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ is a masterful, cinematic explosion

Peyton McKenzie

It’s hard to make a movie that truly surprises you about a world-famous event from nearly 80 years ago. Christopher Nolan’s newest biopic, “Oppenheimer,” is a three-hour behemoth that gets more spine-chilling after each watch. 

The mastermind behind the atomic bomb’s creation, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was wonderfully played by Cillian Murphy in the role of a lifetime. In a war movie that featured no war, the action that was portrayed did it justice. 

The star takes center stage and entraps the viewers with his every word. Murphy, just like the real-life version of the immensely-smart Oppenheimer, has enough charisma and fire to control the entire movie. 

Nolan, who makes it his calling card to bend time to his will (like he did in “Inception” and “Memento”), does just that in this film. It is set during multiple periods in time. As shown in the beginning, the scenes in color are the “Fusion” scenes, which detail the war efforts of Oppenheimer from his own perspective. The other timeline — the black and white “Fission” scenes, are set post-WW2 and are the objective scenes from an outsider’s point of view. 

Despite being a long rundown, the movie is perfectly split into three acts: the first hour represents Oppenheimer’s upbringing as a young scientist, the second is about the building and construction of the atomic bomb and the final is the fallout of the bomb, both physical and mental. 

The first act shows you who the real Oppenheimer is — a struggling physicist in Europe who returns home to start his own quantum physics program in California. Despite being the genius he is, he suffers from homesickness and the multiple people in his life who are trying to convert to the communist ideals trending during the 40s. Though it did not fully entrance you to the story, having the background helped set the stage of the final two acts, something that should not go unnoticed.

While the young Oppenheimer is trying to make it through school, Nolan will quickly revert to the 1950s, when the bomb has already dropped and Oppenheimer has already been heralded as an American hero. Seeing both sides of the coin juxtaposed gives viewers the sudden jolt, allowing them to piece together the plot as they go along. It’s confusing, but on a second watch, makes much more coherent sense.

It’s not just Murphy who shines in the movie. The superstar cast also utilizes the likes of Robert Downey Jr. (The anti-Oppenheimer Louis Strauss), Emily Blunt (Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock, Oppenheimer’s communist mistress) and Matt Damon (military general Leslie Groves).  

The highlight of the movie is the Trinity Test that takes place in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Manhattan Project, tasked with creating the bomb, needed to try out their invention before using it against the Japanese. We now know it worked, but the cinematography and soundtrack mixed with the bomb left me on the edge of my seat. The scientists working on the explosive were worried for their lives if it did not work, and though it did, sent chills throughout the theater. 

While some may go and watch for the explosion scenes and some may go for the A-list cameos, the real treat is how Nolan and Murphy craft the psyche of Oppenheimer. Though he has become the world’s most important man after the war, he struggles with the idea that he was responsible for the deaths of thousands. The lifeless stares that Oppenheimer gives to the camera and the visions he has are haunting, giving another angle of the story that makes it so perfectly done. 

The final hour previews the Senate appointment of Strauss, and his relationship with the now-tainted Oppenheimer will impact his future. It helps show that while Murphy’s character was paraded around as a hero in the immediate moments of the bomb, when reality sunk in and he was no longer needed, they cast him away. The court cases and hearings with all the characters ties the film together and gives it a more historical feel as you see the progression through the decade.

It is a movie that left me speechless on the first watch and when I went back for the second time, it left me even more speechless. Though a period movie, “Oppenheimer” will stand the test of time and explode during award season.

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About the Contributors
Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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