Barbenheimer summer is in full swing and it would be fair to say that this past week has been one of the most important for film in 2023. Movie-goers of all ages and interests greatly anticipated the concurrent releases of Christoper Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” The craze surrounding the two movies will be one to admire and reference for years to come, but it seems like much of the hype that surrounded “Oppenheimer” can be accredited to its shared release date with the heavily marketed “Barbie” film and the stark juxtaposition of topics offered by the two. However, after its release date, it is more than clear that “Oppenheimer” stands strong on its own and deserves all of the hype and recognition it has received thus far.
“Oppenheimer” boasts a star-studded cast, all of whom delivered incredible performances. The main cast (according to IMDb) includes Cillian Murphy (J. Robert Oppenheimer), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock), Emily Blunt (Kitty Oppenheimer), Rami Malek (David Hill), Tom Conti (Albert Einstein), Matt Damon (Leslie Groves) and many more.
With incredible poise and extreme commitment to historical accuracy, “Oppenheimer” is a biographical thriller that tells the story of the controversial life, career and legacy of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of Los Alamos who is known as “the father of the atomic bomb.”
The film skips around between three main timelines. The first is a chronological depiction of Oppenheimer’s career beginning with his education at Cambridge. The second depicts the senate confirmation hearing of Lewis Strauss’ nomination to Secretary of Commerce, where he is aggressively questioned about his adversarial professional relationship with Oppenheimer, beginning with their roles as co-chairs in the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission during the 1950s. The final timeline depicts Oppenheimer’s — and his fellow contemporaries’ — testimonies in a government hearing intended to strip Oppenheimer of his government security clearances because of alleged ties to the Communist party. These timelines intertwine to give audiences a clear picture of Oppenheimer’s life and career as a whole. The plot elegantly shows Oppenheimer’s excited contribution to his country via the invention of the atomic bomb and his gradually increasing apprehension of the atomic bomb’s use as he comes to terms with the gravity of its power.
“Oppenheimer” tackles several complex themes within its plot. The most apparent is seen in Oppenheimer’s own internal struggles over his part in the creation of the atomic bomb. His initial excitement becomes quickly overshadowed by the realization of the atomic bomb’s horrors and its potential to change the world irrevocably. Murphy delivers a heartfelt and thought-provoking performance which skillfully captures the character’s internal struggles, ethical conundrums and deep sorrow for his contribution to an event that horrifically ended so many lives. This performance is bound to be commended further when awards season rolls around.
Downey Jr. also gave an award-worthy performance highlighting his diverse acting ability. Robert Downey Jr. is not often seen playing such a villainous antagonist, but he truly nailed the performance, proving his depth as an actor. Blunt delivered another noteworthy performance in her role as Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty, encompassing the strength, intelligence and emotional toll inflicted on a woman that history so often fails to acknowledge.
The film’s plot and acting performances were only heightened by Christopher Nolan’s and
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s breathtaking cinematography, Jennifer Lame’s incredible film editing and Ludwig Göransson’s emotional musical scores. The proof of the cast and crew’s skill lies in their ability to hold the audience’s attention throughout the entirety of the nearly three-hour-long film. Critics seem to agree so far: Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 94% score and IMDb rated the film 8.8/10, skyrocketing the film to #10 on IMDb’s top 100 list. The film officially opened on July 21 and, according to The New York Times, has already earned $80.5 million in the United States and Canada, and nearly $94 million overseas.
The greatest success of “Oppenheimer” rests not in its incredible cinematography, writing or acting performances, but in the way all of these elements come together to truly capture the impact that the atomic bomb had on the world. In learning about the events surrounding the atomic bomb by retroactively looking back, modern generations are granted the privilege of emotional detachment from the event’s horrors via a lens of temporal distance. “Oppenheimer” is, at its core, an important film that resurrects this story for a modern audience. This fact makes “Oppenheimer” not only a good film, but one that begs the socially responsible human to consider our dark past thoughtfully. Above all, “Oppenheimer” proves that cinematic art possesses the power to bring distant history into a modern focus so that society might continue to reflect on our missteps and failings on a world-altering level.