Sunday, December 3, 2023

Oppenheimer (2023)

 J. Robert Oppenheimer: I don't know if we can be trusted with such a weapon. But I know the Nazis can't .~ from Oppenheimer (2023)

I was finally able to see Christopher Nolan's film Oppenheimer for myself. The movie covers the career of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer who, as founder of Los Alamos, led the team which manufactured the atomic bomb in 1945.While the story is told in pieces like shattered glass, moving forward and backward in time, from the chaos there emerges an important conversation about the morality of the use of weapons of mass destruction. Society is depicted in a free fall, as if western civilization is being blown to bits in slow motion. The world wavers between the twin tyrannies of Communism and Fascism. Similarly, the life of the Father of the Atomic Bomb is rife with controversies, misspent passions, and interior torments which all serve to make his genius more spectacular. Oppenheimer, more than anyone else, was conscious of the fact that while the atomic bomb helped to end World War II, it truly opened a Pandora's box of endless perils. The final question is that if the discovery and use of atomic energy was inevitable, should the technology be in the hands of America or in the hands of her enemies?

There has been a great deal of talk on the internet about the brief sex scenes in the film, scenes which were mostly unnecessary. They depicted Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) with his mistress, the Communist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh); the relationship seems oddly passionless and utilitarian. Jean shuns romance or commitment, like the good Bolshevik she is, and other than an intellectual connection she and Oppie are just using each other for fleeting gratification. The first sex scene flashed by so quickly that it was easy to miss, and I did miss it by exiting to let the cat out, returning to hear the words: "You are become Death and the destroyer of worlds." The later scenes were brief as well, with an odd perfunctory interaction between Oppie and Jean, just sitting around naked and talking, as if love and sex were bourgeois and boring. But that is what Communists are all about: scorn for middle class pleasures. There is nudity from the waist up; personally I find Florence Pugh more scandalous in some of her publicity stills. Oppenheimer's relationship with his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt), although they are never shown  unclothed, is a thousand times more passionate just by the way they look at each other, seeming to read each other's minds. Oppie's huge mistake was seeing Jean after his marriage to Kitty, which seemed to trigger Jean's mental instability, possibly leading to her suicide. And the past Communism of both his women returns to haunt him.

All of what I just wrote about is a mere fraction of the film, most of which is quite avuncular, dealing with the morality of weapons of mass destruction and the impact of the mere existence of such weapons on humanity. Oppenheimer contains some mesmerizingly profound performances, the most obvious being that of Cillian Murphy, who makes you forget he comes from County Cork as he disappears into the character of the tormented Jewish physicist who realizes he is on the verge of handing over to politicians the power to blow up the world. Matt Damon is good as General Leslie Groves, who hires Oppenheimer to build the bomb. The film pulls together a lot of historical events and personages, making for a more coherent understanding of the end of World War II and of the Cold War, for me, at any rate. I watched the film with a person who came of age during the Cold War and she found the film compellingly authentic in its representations. As a work of art and of historical fiction, it excels.



Plinthos said...

Nudity in film is an abuse of power, abusing the artists at the core of their being, which includes the sacredness of the body. In real life the general public does not have open access to viewing the private parts of persons, it's actually against the law. It's outrageous that the entertainment industry has its own separate weird code of conduct which constantly violates the people in that industry and the general public.

The abuse of authority reminds me of Bill Clinton and his abuse of Monica Lewinsky.

elena maria vidal said...

Agreed, although to be clear, no genitalia or full nudity was shown. A man's bare chest was shown, which most people have seen before. A woman's bare chest was also shown, so anyone who has never seen breasts before might be shocked and should just avoid the film. Sexual intercourse was briefly simulated, which is worse than nudity, plus being completely useless to the story. But the crass sexuality is linked to the new ability to create bombs to blow up the world. When the sacredness and mystery of the human person is violated, there is nothing beyond that but the mystery of death.