Image: Soledad Seville


Commentary on the film directed by Christopher Nolan

Oppenheimer it's a great movie. And perhaps it is due to the fact that Christopher Nolan – British dealing with an American feat – did not make the film a spectacular patriotism like Dunkirk, or seek to make an action film like the Batmans and Supermans he directed. In a competent fragmented plot, he does not lose his hand and shows a narrative puzzle – like John dos Passos in 1919 – in which the plot is being assembled with the spectator’s complicity.

Despite being “the bomb movie”, there are few scenes of empty catastrophic spectacularization. On the contrary, the action is almost theatrical, in the setting up of a wild plot that mixes comings and goings between public and private life of the central character, almost caricature plots of the US Army and government whistleblowers, who sought to watch the steps of dozens of scientists antifascists, not all aligned with the White House.

Christopher Nolan has the amazing performance of Cillian Murphy, who embodies a somber Oppenheimer, physically fragile, endowed with strong articulation and leadership skills and, above all, ambiguous. He is a historically uncomfortable character: he was close to the Communist Party of the USA and sent money to the Spanish republicans before the war, but he directed one of the most ambitious scientific projects of the first half of the 1950th century, atomic fission, and the construction of the genocide bomb infinite. After his immediate glory, he is ensnared by McCarthyism and the anti-Communist madness of the XNUMXs, under the accusation of having passed the secrets of the bomb to the Soviet Union.

Oppenheimer, at the height of the cold war, is experiencing a violent political ordeal. In the end, the scientist-spy discovered was the German physicist Klaus Fuchs, sentenced to 14 years in prison in England (which is only hinted at in the plot), in the 1950s. In fact, what the film lacks is something like a mini-glossary to each shot features some of the greatest physics geniuses of all time, such as Edward Teller, Werner Heisenberg, Nels Bohr and Albert Einstein. With the exception of the last one, the others enter and leave the scenes as almost anonymous extras.

Christopher Nolan does not force the bar and faces a difficult character both on the left and on the American ultra-right. Oppenheimer leaves badly scratched after more than three hours of projection, either because of his personal vanities, or because of the total lack of scruples in the face of the genocidal project he directed.

Julius Robert Openheimmer (1904-1967) came from a well-to-do Jewish family and had a brilliant academic career. Graduated in Physics from Harvard, he studied in Europe, first at the University of Cambridge and later at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Göttingen. Back in the US, he became a professor at Berkeley. In addition to the bomb, he made several theoretical contributions to science. He joined the Manhattan project in 1942. The initiative, based in Los Álamos, New Mexico, had a staff of 120 people, spread across centers in the states of Washington and Tennessee, as well as New Mexico. Only a handful of technicians knew what they were looking for.

After the explosion of the first bomb, in Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, the film shows a euphoric Oppenheimer. Jay Monk, one of his biographers, reports: “To ecstatic applause, Oppenheimer told the crowd that it was too early to assess the results of the bombing, but that 'the Japanese didn't like it'”. A beyond cynical statement, reproduced by Christopher Nolan in a shocking scene. The B-29 raid was not seen there as a terrorist attack or something that forever changed the destructive possibilities of the centers of global power.

Everything would be the core of a vertiginous and victorious individual career. After the second bombing, in Nagasaki three days later, reports show a scientist taken by a much more restrained behavior. His relations with the left remain shrouded in doubt to this day, despite the fact that investigations have never been conclusive.

In 1994, General Pavel Sudoplatov, head of the NKVD's special spy missions revealed in special tasks, fascinating memoir, that it was not Fuchs who was responsible for opening secret information to the Soviets, but Oppenheimer himself. The report revolted the family and admirers of the coordinator of the Manhattan project. In the face of threats and heavy criticism, Sudoplatov presented documents evidencing the communication between the top of the atomic program and Soviet espionage.

Finally, there is something relevant, which runs through the entire film. at one point, the character implies that he is just a scientist dedicated to his research and not responsible for the horror on the other side of the world. It is a great theme and the same lame excuse used by senior officials of any government, who repeat that they are “technicians” and not politicians and, therefore, have nothing to do with the consequences of their actions. An open cynicism of pure Reason. We hear and see similar things almost every day in the media, right here in Brazil.

*Gilberto Maringoni, is a journalist and professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).


USA, 2023, 185 minutes.
Direction and screenplay: Christopher Nolan.
book adaptation The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin.
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Gary Oldman, Ben Safdie, Robert Downey Jr. ,Jack Quaid, Gustaf Skarsgard, Rami Malek and Kenneth Branagh.

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