In Greek Mythology, Prometheus also known as the “God of Fire” stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to humans and was ultimately punished for his misdeeds by the Gods in the most sickening ways possible. Some records state that he was turned to stone and some advocate that he was set in a time loop by Zeus where he was fated to cut out and eat his own liver for the rest of eternity.
The story of the great American Prometheus brings us to a similar impasse, where the pioneer of the Atomic Bomb was punished for his indiscrete outbursts against the monster he unleashed into the world. The original sin or the discovery of fire ushered an era of progress, development, and advancement for man by heralding the Bronze Age and the many technologies that came with it.
Conversely, the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer took a different turn. Overburdened by moral dilemmas and existential crises, he created the atomic bomb that did stop paralyzing great wars but in doing so put the world at an even greater risk – the risk of an all-ending nuclear war that could destroy it for good.
When you make the discovery of the millennium, it is bound to become one of the most treasured themes of modern cinema. This is one of the key reasons that themes like the nuclear arms race and post-apocalypse became recurring themes after the development of the atomic bomb.
There have been many documentaries, movies, and series based on Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project but none have the subtlety, craft, and impact of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. The pulsating screen with nightmarish billowing flames was a singularity, unlike anything seen on the big screen before.
The much-anticipated film checked all boxes beyond expectations. One of the reasons why prominent critics rank it among one of the most mature works of the iconic director and one of the finest biographical thrillers of all time.
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The Cerebral Fantasy
Besides bursts of fire coming out of the screen to engulf you, the glorious film also tells the story of a brilliant yet troubled mind who constantly wrestles with the deadly consequences of making the discovery of a lifetime.
From psychotically whirling galaxies to dying stars combined with the power of impressionist shots and simplified inspection of the nature of the universe, Oppenheimer bedazzles the mind with otherworldly luminosity.
Like an epic poem that narrates the extraordinary deeds and fate of extraordinary characters, Nolan leaves no pages unturned in his exploration of the man in all its glory, madness, and eventual fall from grace or downfall. Similarly, the movie portrays Oppenheimer in all its flaws, subtleties, and brilliance while never losing sight of the man in his journey through a deeply puzzling time and space.
Timescapping in Film: A Journey Through Time & Space
The quality of Nolan’s craft in this film is on a different dimension altogether. Constantly moving through different realities and perspectives, he provides a multi-dimensional view of the great man’s life by skipping from one timescape vantage point to another.
Many directors have used the technique before like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, who are regarded as masters of the method but this was something else entirely. The movie provided a three-dimensional caricature of Oppenheimer’s life story with Nolan dividing his life into three discrete yet interconnected parts that somehow made sense together.
The first focused on the infamous 1954 security clearance hearing that ended Oppenheimer’s career as a physicist and academic. The second set emerges with another set of hearings before the Senate for confirmation of Lewis Strauss. Giving the movie two unique sets of narrators and perspectives that subtly balance each other.
The third dimension which encompasses most parts of the film transverses Oppenheimer’s journey as an academic and theoretical physicist, his early love affair with the communist party, his philandering indiscretions with Jean Tatlock, and ultimately leadership of the Los Almos project that leads to the discovery of the atomic and hydrogen bomb.
The three-dimensional structure may be puzzling at first but its brilliance lies in the fact this intricately woven structure makes complete sense towards the end of the film.
The Cillian Murphy & Robert Downey Jr. Show
However, all of this would not have been possible without the impeccable performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Cillian Murphy. Critics often overshadow Downey Jr.’s performance because of Cillian Murphy’s transformative and Oscar-worthy performance, but it wouldn’t have worked without an equally powerful characterization of Lewis Strauss.
By creating two polar opposites of different men who are inherently driven by the same motives and ambition, Nolan added another layer to the film. Cillian plays the idealist living in a world of dreams, driven by the ambition of extraordinary achievement whereas Robert plays a cutthroat realist who is driven by greed of accumulating power and influence.
Still, after all the comparisons, Cillian Murphy is undoubtedly the star of the show. Barring the sacrifices he made to adapt to the role from learning three different languages fluently to the amazing body transformation, he gave Oppenheimer a punchy onscreen dimension of a person engulfed in the madness of his erratic thoughts while battling real-world realities. The range of emotions he portrays on screen is simply baffling.
Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is an homage to one of the greatest scientists in human history. A visual and technical cinematic masterpiece, the movie traverses many aspects of Oppenheimer’s while bringing us closer to the truth and the man in all his shades and follies.