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  • Martina

Nolan's Oppenheimer: A (Needless) Apology of a Crime

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Cillian Murphy as Robert Oppenheimer
Cillian Murphy as Robert Oppenheimer | Image Credits: USA TODAY

For cinema, the summer of 2023 will be remembered as the season of trends, when two movies, Barbie and Oppenheimer, were the talk of the world. Or, to sound more up to date, they went viral.

A nostalgic desire to finally go back to theaters, an even more nostalgic longing for a captivating and inspiring movie to watch, or maybe just a very good promotional campaign, one way or another these productions have lured us in, and without realizing I was purchasing my ticket and was patiently sitting, waiting to watch Oppenheimer.

As an enthusiastic fan of Christopher Nolan's art and with a solid background in history, I went there with significant expectations. After less than one hour of viewing, I was yawning so hard my jaw was hurting and, as the movie's direction became more and more evident, I felt increasingly annoyed.

I don't know if it is just me but, as far as I can remember, it has never crossed my mind to actually blame someone for the invention or the first detonation of the atomic bomb.

Oppenheimer got it right when it tried to convey the impossibility of escaping the incumbency of an invention once its premises had been brought to light. You may stop one scientist but you can't stop them all - in the end, ambition will prevail. Thinking that one could have foretold all the consequences that this would have had and their timing seems fantasy likewise.

But while it was probably impossible to hit the brakes on that chain of discovery and invention that was in action since the mid-19th century and that has never really stopped ever since, attempting to wash hands from, to quote the movie, the blood that is on them was certainly evitable.

Retouching history is always dangerous, especially if through a movie that is to be seen by millions of people around the world. In Nolan's film, the portrait of Robert Oppenheimer has fully become fictional, his life and relationships a mere decoration, his depression a useful tool, and his emotions a medium. And yet, its role is all but fictitious.

With patriotism in his words and national attachment in his mind (and in those of his fellow scientists and friends), Robert Oppenheimer is the voice of a country that - in light of the recent events and new threats linked to the atomic bomb that the US themselves created and are the only ones to have ever used - now wishes to clarify that yes, it's been us, yes, we invented the bomb and detonated it, but we did it because some of us genuinely thought we were saving the world.

Honestly, this narrative begins to show the signs of age. If it is true that I have never been willing to point fingers at anyone for the atomic bomb, I have not been too prone to justify or sugarcoat the events that followed its invention either. The first half of the 20th century is definitely not a time to look up to and it seems quite obvious that no party involved came out of it immaculate.

In this sense, the one-hour-long attempt in the final part of the movie to rehabilitate the image of Oppenheimer appeared partially unnecessary and, also, incredibly boring. At the same time, the most crucial events in the life of the scientist - the development of the Manhattan Project and the bombings in Japan - faded away from the script, neglected or only superficially explored. A rational choice for the sake of cinematographic excellence, surely, but not all subjects are good candidates.

Some chapters in the history of the last century are definitely not mature nor old enough to be used for purposes other than remembrance, study or reflection, as our world is literally still paying the consequences of those many follies.

By the time Oppenheimer ended, I was still in awe at Nolan's evident talents as a director but also felt undecided on whether this might have been the last of his works I watched in a theater. If we all seem to strive so hard to disrupt systems we now find uncomfortable, does this endless repetition of the same narrative still belong here or is it maybe time to move on?


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