I finally watched the most anticipated movie of the season - Oppenheimer.
What struck me the most was the difficulty in distinguishing Cillian Murphy, the actor, from the character he portrayed, Oppenheimer. Murphy's portrayal is so masterful that he physically manifests the physical persona of Oppenheimer, resurrecting him for us in the twenty-first century through the lens of world-class maverick director Christopher Nolan. Cillian becomes Oppenheimer!
Unfortunately, the scriptwriting falls short of truly delving into the depths of Oppenheimer's personality; it barely scratches the surface leading me to purchase the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. This biographical account offers a far more comprehensive understanding of Oppenheimer than the movie. So, if you want to comprehend this man's complexities, you need to read the book rather than watch the movie.
Then why watch the movie at all?
It is beyond doubt that Nolan understands that it's the human side of the story that resonates deeply with viewers—understanding the weight of responsibility on Oppenheimer's shoulders, the internal conflict between scientific advancement and ethical considerations, and the profound impact his decisions had on the world.
So on that count, the film exhibits excellent filmmaking, technical brilliance, on-point performances, and outstanding visuals. However, the narrative falls slightly short of the high standards set by Nolan himself in his prior ground-breaking works, such as the masterpieces Interstellar, Inception, and The Prestige. The storyline, while engaging, doesn't quite reach the mind-bending complexity and philosophical themes that made his earlier works so memorable.Though it does not match the unrivalled excellence of Nolan's previous works, it is a powerful and commendable contribution to his filmography.
Furthermore, I felt overall the narrative held Murphy back. Not letting us into the world of Oppenheimer.
One of the noticeable aspects of the movie is that it is presented from Oppenheimer's perspective, allowing us to see the world through his eyes. However, there is a slight flaw in the non-linear storytelling approach used by Nolan, where the narrative jumps back and forth in time. This can make it challenging to fully connect with the narrator if they don't consistently steer the movie's direction. In this case, the movie revolves around the "Oppenheimer security hearing" in 1954, but it also includes scenes from Strauss' confirmation hearing, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. This inconsistency in the narrative bothered me.
Furthermore, his relationship choices made me really wonder where did he stand with either of them. I just couldn't see the chemistry between him and his wife. Emily Blunt's performance in the movie is undoubtedly flawless, but I find myself questioning the nature of Oppenheimer's marriage as it left me uncertain about the dynamics between Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer. Kitty's support for her husband is evident, but it doesn't appear to stem from a place of passionate love. Rather, it feels like a sense of duty or acceptance of her role as a "housewife," which she even proclaims in a scene where Oppenheimer and she first meet, recounting her past as a microbiologist but now embracing the role of a housewife, which she playsdutifully throughout her life.
The movie presents us with subtle nuances in their relationship, leaving it open to interpretation. The complexities of his love life does add a bit of an intriguing layer to Oppenheimer's character.
As the movie progressed, my inquiries and uncertainties only intensified.
By now, most folks have googled this verse and found that this verse can be traced back to Chapter 11, verse 32, of the Srimad Bhagvad Gita. Since the movie's opening, there have been numerous discussions and debates about the accuracy of its interpretation, with many asserting that it does not reflect the true essence of the original verse.
The Sanskrit verse reads as follows:
कालोऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत्प्रवृद्धोलोकान्समाहर्तुमिह प्रवृत्त: |
ऋतेऽपि त्वां न भविष्यन्ति सर्वेयेऽवस्थिता: प्रत्यनीकेषु योधा: || 32||
Translated as —
BG 11.32: The Supreme Lord said:
I am mighty Time, the source of destruction that comes forth to annihilate the worlds. Even without your participation, the warriors arrayed in the opposing army shall cease to exist.
It is clear that Oppenheimer did not translate this verse correctly. But that said, I found myself intrigued by the movie's omission of the reasons behind Oppenheimer's decision to study Sanskrit and also, why did Oppenheimer choose to reference this specific verse at such a momentous point in time? It is actually the most defining moment not only in his life but to be fair a momentous event in the history of the world!
Since Nolan has admitted that the script was fully written from the perspective of the main character Oppenheimer, why wouldn't he at least explore this facet of his personality, which, based on what I've read of the book's passages (ibid. ), I believe was not only crucial but also transformational in his life?
Interestingly, the book uncovers that Harold Cherniss introduced Oppenheimer to Professor Ryder, a Sanskrit professor at Berkeley. Oppenheimer felt an immediate connection to the ancient language. Given he had a fascination for the mystical, and unsual linguistic abilities, it didn't take him long to delve into the Bhagavad-Gita. Infact, he described the ancient Hindu text Srimad Bhagavad Gita, known as "The Lord's Song," as "the most beautiful philosophical song ever written in any known language."
The book also reveals that Oppenheimer was captivated by his Sanskrit studies to the point where he affectionately named his new Chrysler "Garuda" after the giant bird god in Hindu mythology, Vishnu's celestial vehicle.
The movie, based on this biographical account, sadly overlooked a crucial aspect of Oppenheimer's personality – his yearning for detachment and inner peace amid life's challenges, leaving out a significant dimension of his character.
Honestly, what I had hoped to see is a metaphysical story that delves into the depths of the science, human mind and soul. I wanted the movie to explore the profound implications of harnessing the power of the universe to create such a destructive force. The idea is teased at the beginning of the movie when a young Oppenheimer reminisces about having dreams of the hidden earth and discusses the stars dying. Sadly, this was left unexplored.
His Inner Turmoil
The spiritual treatise "The Mahabharata" and the profound teachings of "Srimad Bhagavad Gita" touch upon the inner conflict faced by warriors like Arjuna, who are torn between duty and morality, and the significance of finding balance amidst chaos and destruction. I wanted the film to draw parallels between Oppenheimer's struggles and the timeless struggles depicted in these spiritual text which he had eagerly studied and even mastered in his time.
Bird and Sherwin clearly note that Oppenheimer, the scientist, found solace in the mysticism of Eastern philosophies. This would have provided a unique opportunity to delve into the moral, ethical, and existential questions that arise when science and spirituality intersect. I hoped the movie would delve into Oppenheimer's inner journey, grappling with the immense responsibility he bore as the mastermind behind the atomic bomb.
We do see moving glimpses of the moral weight bearing on Oppenheimer’s heart and mind. Like in the scene whereOppenheimer has to address a room full of colleagues and subordinates "joyful" about the successful detonation of thenuclear bomb on Hiroshima! The thumping of the feet and the cheering colleagues made me feel stirred and triggered. The moral dilemma is writ large on his face. And even though he has not witnessed the horrors and aftermath of the weapon he developed with his team, his horror at it is evident to us viewers. We can see it, and in that moment, we are with him! Cillian is absolutely marvellous in the scene. At this point, I can say, unequivocally, he becomes Oppenheimer.
But for the rest of the time, all I see is a scientist grappling with the complexities of balancing science, politics, policy, and conscience. It's hard to say for sure what weighed more heavily on his heart.
A complicated figure?
Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and nuclear technology and professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, describes Oppenheimer as a complicated figure. According to him, it is not possible to come up with a simple version of Oppenheimer.
While the movie does make an attempt to explore his complexities, what we truly needed was a delicate yet profound unlayering and unmasking of his personality. Sadly, we were deprived of such a portrayal on the screen, and it remains uncertain if we will ever get to witness the full depth of his character—onscreen at least!
In Good Faith,
The lovely images have been sourced from:
1. © 2021 - 2023 Rosereystock
2. © 2023 KahlanAmnelle