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FILM REVIEWS
Review
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‘Oppenheimer,’ an arid subject for a good movie

Christopher Nolan’s film has atmosphere, nuanced characters, intelligent dialogues, areas of light and shadow and a visual strength that dazzles

Cillian Murphy como J. Robert Oppenheimer, en una escena de 'Oppenheimer'.
Cillian Murphy plays J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s film.Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The distributor, the producer, the importance of that supposedly essential thing known as marketing; Christopher Nolan himself, who legitimately never has any doubts about his status as an artist. All this makes the release of Oppenheimer the great cinematographic event of the year. The shallow Hollywood of recent years needed to come up with creative, powerful films, capable of attracting a mass audience whose sense of taste has not become atrophied. The press screening was held at a Madrid theater that fits the visual and acoustic conditions for which Nolan conceived his film; the annoyance caused by the long time it took to get there vanished before the visual power displayed on the screen. The sound made the chair vibrate alarmingly.

I also knew that I was going to spend three hours in there. The norm that Hollywood is imposing regarding the exhausting length of its films almost always seems discouraging and gratuitous to me, but in this movie’s case I didn’t look at my watch at all; not compulsively, not even in passing. I also put my bladder’s needs on hold. I did not want to miss a second of what I was being told. The duration is not overwhelming. Because the story is powerful. Dark, too. And well narrated.

Christopher Nolan always takes what he does very seriously. He is a perfectionist. Sometimes he does a flawless job, as in the extraordinary The Dark Knight and Dunkirk. Others are notably appealing to me (Insomnia, The Prestige, Interstellar), and I can also find him pretentious and incomprehensible, as in the case of the unbearable Inception and Tenet. But his personality’s imprint is constant, regardless of how good or bad the resulting product is. I do not think the irreplaceable Scorsese has much of a career left, due to his age. The oft-hypnotic David Fincher is taking his career in stride. Nolan is in tune with them. He is one of the few alternatives in Hollywood to the usual, tiresome superhero cinema, the endless sagas and the other triumphant trifles.

Nolan writes and directs Oppenheimer. I can picture him controlling every little detail of the production. The movie deals with the complex biography of a brilliant scientist who produced something amazing and atrocious known as the atomic bomb. This man not only accumulated immense knowledge about quantum physics; he also had the brilliance and ability to extract the best from other scientists, the intuition, skill and power of persuasion to get them to work together, widespread public recognition of his talent and a huge social projection. Everything in him fitted the image of an absolute winner. Until he was cornered with a vicious campaign, led by powerful bureaucrats who played a double game with the eminence that Oppenheimer represented, the FBI of that all-powerful, amoral and sinister individual named Edgar Hoover and the atrocious consequences that for so many people had the witch hunt led by Senator McCarthy and his many lackeys against suspected or real leftists. It turns out that Oppenheimer always had a social conscience and supported the Republic (with words and money) during the Spanish Civil War, and that his brother and people very close to him had been members of the Communist Party of the United States. They tried to smear his image – and partly succeeded – resorting to tricks, inventing lies and half-truths, manipulating his environment.

Nolan also shows the dark areas, the guilt and the moral doubts of the man who made the atomic bomb possible and devastating, the most brutal weapon ever invented by science in the predatory history of humanity. It had been created with a deterrent effect in mind, but the United States proved its lethal effectiveness by ravaging the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For two years, the army and the scientists tested its possible effects in the desert of Los Alamos. And even though Russia was an ally against Nazism, the competition and espionage between the two countries, looking to master the monster as soon as possible, was already beginning. The United States justified the dropping of the atomic bomb by stating that it ended the war, saving many American lives. Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein (the movie also devotes some screen time to the relationship between these two privileged brains) had their doubts, as well as some terrible certainties, about the effects of what they created.

Oppenheimer has atmosphere, nuanced characters, intelligent dialogues, areas of light and shadow, a visual strength that dazzles at times, performers who make their characters credible. Unsettling things happen in Nolan’s script, and he shoots them with expertise. This film breathes and creates restlessness. It infects you with those feelings. That is all I ask for at a time when going to the movies rarely implies a certain and longed-for pleasure. Only obligation.

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