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Dig Deeper/Spoiler-Free Review: Oppenheimer

Photo of the movie still. Photograph by Shawn Proctor; credit for image to Universal Pictures/Christopher Nolan.

By Shawn Proctor

If you’re a film fan, this weekend feels like a version of the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”: Two movies diverged on a weekend/And sorry I could not buy a ticket to both.

It’s Oppenheimer vs. Barbie. The “father of the atomic bomb” versus the bombshell. Nuclear fusion versus fabulous fashion.

(Let us know whether you’re team Oppenheimer or team Barbie!)

Luckily, I didn’t have that dilemma, as last night I attended an early screening of Oppenheimer in 70mm IMAX, the format preferred by its director Christopher Nolan.

 

Short review:

If you loved Nolan’s Dunkirk for it’s historical drama or Memento for its brooding twistyness, see this film. It’s as much a character study as it is a story about science ramping up the scale of efficiency of war. And the large screen shows off the film’s subtle acting as much as explosive field testing. It was unsettling, but worth the time investment.

Warning: there are several jump scares. 

 

The Story Behind the Movie:

To dig deeper into Oppenheimer, the film is based on American Prometheus: the triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, available through Falvey Library’s Interlibrary Loan. The book was widely acclaimed and won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Sourced from VUFind

Oppenheimer the man is portrayed as complex and flawed, in some ways a visionary and others completely blind. His genius as a scientist enabled him to neglect relationships, dabble in controversial political circles, and bend rules in the pursuit of creating the atomic bomb. And, yet, he could only glimpse the destruction his innovation would enable and Cold War that would follow.

“As he watched its brilliant light explode over the New Mexico desert in 1945 in advance of the black horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he also thought of the line from the Hindu epic The Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” explains The Meanings of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

In all, the death totals from the two bombs ranges between 129,000 and 226,000.

Speaking critically of the global danger he helped create put Oppenheimer in direct opposition of former allies and government. They worked to undermine him professionally and publicly the rest of his life.

However, the atomic bomb, while perhaps inevitable, could not be unmade. Neither could the atomic age it heralded.

 

Further Reading:

Banco, L. M. (2016). The Meanings of J. Robert Oppenheimer. University Of Iowa Press.

Oppenheimer, R., & Rouzé, M. (1967). Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer, J. R., Smith, A. K., & Weiner, C. (1995). Robert Oppenheimer, letters and recollections. Stanford University Press.

USA Atomic Energy Commission, Oppenheimer, J. R., & Stern, P. M. (1971). In the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: Transcript of hearing before Personnel Security Board and texts of principal documents and letters. MIT Press.

 


Shawn Proctor Head shot

Shawn Proctor, MFA, is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Library.

 


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Last Modified: July 19, 2023

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