It's Valentine's Day, the celebration of romance and love around the world. As a cinephile, I can think of nothing more appropriate than to express my affection for this year’s best picture through a brief selection of prose rather than a long editorial (which would be decidedly unromantic). When I sit down to watch the Oscars on March 10, I know I will see this masterpiece walk away with the most coveted award of the evening. So without further ado, the haunting warning that is “Oppenheimer.
Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is a warhead that wants to detonate, an epic portrait of a man wrestling with the weight of the world and the ease with which he can destroy it. It is a shimmering opera of kinesthesis that permits tragedy to envelop it. Let Nolan enrapture you with visions of horror and of invention, let him play you operas of innovation and of spite, let the film gift you with men and petty grievances creating the very thing that could end them all. Or don’t: the bomb, he assures you, doesn’t care.
An odyssey of ego and arrogance, “Oppenheimer” asks if its protagonist realized his creation would drown us all. Cillian Murphy’s performance as American theoretical physicist and inventor of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, is powerfully ambiguous, in love with science yet desperate to stop it, knowing the damage the bomb will cause, yet impelled to build it anyway.
The acting of a tortured genius is elevated to another level, every look he gives taking on deeper meaning until that very last moment, when his eyes have to close. Ludwig Göransson’s score leaps from melodically inquisitive to ferociously urgent through each university classroom, every laboratory and congressional hearing. As the unstoppable train of progress falls into oblivion, we never see its conductor stop shoveling coal into its engines. Nobody can avoid a chain reaction that ignites the very atmosphere.
The race to craft something that will define the last eon of man is a race Oppenheimer didn’t know how not to run - that much Nolan makes clear. The director’s fiery script is stoked with a symphony of light and sound, using the cinematic language to support the written one, every shot as intentionally placed as the cogs in Oppenheimer’s machine.
Though the moments where Oppenheimer meets his lover, Jean Tatlock, are perhaps ones where Nolan leans too far into dramatization, the impact they have later on only further enriches the thematic landscape.
Not just Prometheus, Oppenheimer was Pandora. He opened the box to be the stuff of legends, not knowing the fiery rain that would crash down from the heavens. Or maybe he did think of atrocity before it began to storm on his creation, and just dismissed it.
We can never know. But the feet stomp, and the rain crackles like electricity, and Oppenheimer’s beloved drowns herself in the water that surrounds him. He can predict when the rain will stop falling, but he can't know when it'll start up again. When the chain reaction ends, and those horrors catch up to him, he will have to remember who they belong to. He'll watch like the rest, and to his dismay, suffer just the same as we will.