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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

REVIEW: ‘Oppenheimer’ puts fate of world on shoulders of giants, but not the one you think

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Since news broke of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” releasing the same day, the world’s film enthusiasts have sat in wait for the pop culture event of the summer — and maybe even the year.

Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” now being referred to as his magnum opus, offers a gripping picture of the father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the relationships that shaped his life.

We follow Oppenheimer–brilliantly cast as a chilly-eyed Cillian Murphy — from a young physics student plagued by visions of his subject to an older man buckling under the consequences of his deadly invention and the post-war political scene.

Besides Murphy, the film features a number of well-known faces like Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, and even Josh Peck. Each cast member, no matter how little screen time they were given, put their best foot forward in supporting “Oppie,” as he is often nicknamed by his circle.

These supporting characters gave an intense, even if brief, performance to convey the influence of Oppenheimer’s peers on his work without taking the spotlight off of the film’s main subject.

This is especially true for Emily Blunt’s character, Kitty Oppenheimer, Oppie’s wife and my personal favorite.

Although her largest contributions occur in the film’s final hour, Kitty’s sarcasm and scorn become the film’s source of fiery persistence as an anti-communist witch hunt works to silence her husband. Her protest of the obvious political scheme starkly contrasts Oppenheimer’s relenting fatigue to convey just how much directing the Manhattan Project has taken out of him.

This transition from an enthusiastic academic ready to teach quantum theory to any American willing to listen to the discarded genius traumatized by his own creation is gradual over the film’s slightly exhausting run time of 180 minutes. To me, what really seemed to break Oppenheimer was the slow but sure realization of how little control he had over his own innovations.

In fact, the American government’s inevitable disposal of Oppenheimer is clear early on in an interaction with Luis Alvarez, one of the Manhattan Project scientists. Oppie pushes down his doubt about directing the project by stating, “They need us,” to which Alvarez replies with a chilling “Until they don’t.”

We see him strive to stay true to himself anyway — notice his adherence to his iconic hat instead of a military uniform — but Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists at Los Alamos are only as important as those in power decide they are.

Nolan’s character study thrives alongside an intense soundtrack and visual elements packed with enough intensity to rival the worst horror movie jump scare you can think of. We see Oppenheimer grapple with the devastation of the A-bomb when he imagines the crowd at his victory speech peeling and disintegrating as they cheer for him.

My personal favorite scene was Kitty’s bizarre vision of Jean Tatlock (played by Pugh) on top of Oppenheimer as she watches him answer questions about his affair with the young communist.

While some viewers have expressed that the film fails to include the Japanese perspective — we don’t even see the bomb fall on Hiroshima or Nagasaki — I feel that this was not only intentional but a central point.

Oppenheimer himself was severed from the bomb the second it was in military hands — his usefulness had finally run out.

We don’t see the devastation because moral qualms were never going to stand between America and the Japanese surrender anyway. Oppenheimer spirals into regret solely because of the realization that his brilliance directly created a horrifying tool that those in power have no issue disregarding human life.

I don’t believe this film asks you to feel bad for Oppenheimer. (I definitely did not, what did you think was going to happen, man?) It asks you to understand how little control he had — and how little control we all have — when working under the truly powerful.

It’s more than valid to fault Oppenheimer, but Nolan puts this blame into a larger context we cannot ignore.

Nolan leaves us with a terrifying final line when Oppenheimer tells Albert Einstein that he has destroyed the world with his creation. Here, Oppenheimer is truly Prometheus as he faces the devastation — and inevitable opportunities for more of the same — born out of his contributions to the science he was once so eager to make strides in.

“Oppenheimer” is more than a biopic — it is a cautionary tale that forces us to face the violent potential that curiosity and innovation hold.

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About the Contributor
Salsabila Attaria
Salsabila Attaria, Former arts and culture editor
Salsabila Attaria was the arts and culture editor for The Sunflower during the 2023-2024 year. Attaria is a health science major.  She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. She uses she/her pronouns.

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