23.07.2023: Film review: Oppenheimer (2023)

By Edo Muric

Christopher Nolan's latest film, "Oppenheimer," explores the life of its titular character, focusing on his involvement in the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb. The film portrays a gripping race against Hitler, leading to the devastating bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and subsequently giving birth to the Cold War. This ambitious epic delves into character complexities, a departure from Nolan's typical style, especially concerning the central character. Over the course of its three hours, the film successfully delivers tension, drama, and several captivating moments. However, it also suffers from occasional tedium due to problems with the screenplay, attempting to overdramatize situations and subplots that feel inconsequential compared to the film's central theme. This imbalance causes the film to lose momentum in its third hour, overstaying its welcome and ultimately faltering in its attempt to portray Oppenheimer as a victim of McCarthyism, diminishing the complexity established in the previous two hours. Another drawback lies in the overuse of music, at times verging on the comical, like when an overly dramatic score accompanies a courtroom-like committee hearing, more suitable for a Batman-style car chase scene than a dramatic conversation. On the other hand, the film is extremely well acted.

Despite its flaws, however, "Oppenheimer" remains one of the most significant films of recent times and a beacon of hope for the struggling art form of cinema. Its relevance stems from the sense of healthy anxiety it evokes about our present time. By recounting the events of the Manhattan Project and the bombings in Japan at the end of World War II, the film serves as a cautionary tale for the modern world. The film's chilling portrayal of humanistic scientists, who were otherwise devoted to peace and politically liberal, cheering at the success of the Hiroshima bombing, serves as a haunting reminder of how Western humanism and values can be temporarily abandoned when a red line is crossed. The shocking aspect is that the sacrifice of innocent civilian lives in these nuclear attacks hardly elicited any genuine concern from inherently liberal and humanistic Western societies. This lack of empathy was also evident during the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden, as people deemed the civilian casualties acceptable in the pursuit of ending the war.

Herein lies a crucial lesson for the world, particularly the arrogant totalitarian societies, such as Russia. The film warns that one day, a Western government may say enough is enough and come to the conclusion that total annihilation of such a country is warranted because Europe and the world can no longer live in fear of their menace. Regardless of whether such a calculation is right or wrong, especially considering the possibility of victims on both sides, there is a real possibility that someone might consider the gamble worthwhile. Apart from being morally degrading to the peaceful countries of Europe and the West, who are forced to defend themselves and to participate in a war they didn't want or start, it would also be the cause of the end of Russia, that would above all be very hurtful for the country itself. But like with Japan in 1945, no one would really care.