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“Oppenheimer” Could Have Been Better: Here’s Why

With the new release of the well-watched film “Oppenheimer,” and the constant talk about the film’s projected success and strong reviews, I felt that this one was a movie I couldn’t miss. Even with the seemingly boring topic and three-hour run-time, I was intrigued to see Cillian Murphy play J. Robert Oppenheimer, and of course, I was excited to see another Nolan film. So, I texted some friends, bought my ticket to the Lincoln Square AMC, bought a large bucket of popcorn, and settled in on a Thursday, during the heatwave in Manhattan, for three hours of intense investment into the story of the creation of the atomic bomb.

Of course, upon watching the entire movie, I had some thoughts.

The Christopher Nolan film was beautifully shot and edited and the cinematography was gorgeous. This is to be expected with such a famous cast, director, and crew, and a $100 million budget. Cillian Murphy was a seemingly perfect fit and successfully portrayed the brilliant scientist that Oppenheimer was. Along with most of the people who saw the new smash-hit film, “Oppenheimer,” I was impressed with the portrayal of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life as a scientist and his contributions to the war effort during the Second World War. The film has now surpassed $550 million internationally (as of August 8, 2023), showing that people are loving it and are continuously spending money to view it in theaters.

That being said, there are a few things that could have made the film more well-rounded. I was surprised that many seemingly crucial plot points that should have been included were not in the film, despite its three-hour run time. There are multiple sex scenes with Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh, though, which may beg the question as to why I am asking even more from an already successful and sexy film.

Throughout the whole movie I was waiting for more insight into American Politics and anti-bomb rhetoric from the period after the bomb was first dropped on Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, and years after the end of the war. It was clear in the film that the creation and use of the bomb were confidential and unknown to the American public until it was dropped. After the war had ended, there was 90% public approval of the use of the bomb, which was implied, but not specifically mentioned. I wanted to see more of the public perspective in the film because it wasn’t until years after the bomb’s use that people began to realize the gravity of the atomic era and the destruction that had been imposed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki civilians. This transformation of opinion regarding the bomb would have been important to include as, without mention of it, the comprehensive and true reaction to the atomic bomb was not shown in the film. With only including the positive, nationalist response, audiences who did not do further digging would have concluded that the bomb continued to be supported in a positive way, which was not the case. Nolan’s choice to leave this out is interesting as I think this is crucial to the story and could have been mentioned at least once in the aftermath of the bomb or even at the hearing that Oppenheimer is brought to that takes place throughout the majority of the duration of the film.

The film follows the trajectory of showing Oppenheimer’s life, still, I felt like something was missing from the ladder part of the film. Showing more of the public view could have amplified the gravity of the bomb and the awe it created in the public sphere. I am aware that there was some mention of a growing concern for the start of the Cold War, but I felt there needed to be more insight into the general opinion of the times. Geopolitics were mentioned often, which was great. Still, I wonder what Christopher Nolan’s motivations were behind really only including conflict between Strauss and Oppenheimer rather than showing the public favorability of the bomb later transforming into more of a mixed response over time.

In a biography about Oppenheimer, people noted that he could adapt his personality to any situation and that he was a great addition to parties and gatherings; that wasn’t necessarily my takeaway from the film, though. Any added information about who Oppenheimer was as a person would have allowed the audience to have a further chance to connect and understand Oppenheimer as a character. Not including information about his personality seems intentional, and could have created a more well-rounded picture of him as a person.

Maybe I missed it and it’s apparent that he was a social chameleon, but I took him to be pretty reserved and hesitant in social situations that didn’t automatically suit his scientific wheelhouse.

There was also little to no talk about Robert Oppenheimer’s upbringing, wealthy family background, or the motivations behind becoming a theoretical physicist. For example, during his time as a single man, Oppenheimer was in a car crash with a woman he was seeing at the time, and he thought he had killed her when he saw her unconscious after the accident. Upon her recovery, his father gifted her with a Cézanne painting to apologize for the accident. So, why was this familial wealth not mentioned more in the film?

If there had been more inclusion of prior career details about his life, I would have connected with Oppenheimer more or would have at least seen reasons he went into a scientific field, which would have given a more encompassing view of his character. There was no mention of his upbringing, making him feel superficial rather than someone the audience is meant to understand, trust, and follow through the film that is meant to follow the creation of such a controversial weapon and key to the destruction of humanity. I wanted to see motive and effort. What did Oppenheimer do to gain his credibility? Where was he from? What was his upbringing like? This would have given his character more humanity, rather than the detached and undefined presentation of Oppenheimer that was created as a result of the lack of information about his background.

Though the film as a whole had its faults, in my eyes, I thought it was well worth the attention it received from critics and the public. Though there were holes in the representation of Oppenheimer as a character, I was able to gather that he was an intelligent man with good and moral intentions behind the creation and testing of the atomic bomb. The story of what it would have been like to create a weapon of mass destruction was shown in great detail with a comprehensive retelling of the secrecy and sacrifice needed on behalf of scientists to create the bomb.

Overall, I am happy a film like this exists, because it does provoke existential thoughts and forces the audience to realize that humans have the key to world destruction, and that’s terrifying. Would I see the movie again? Potentially, but three hours is a long time. Though, I will admit the ending may have been one of my favorite film endings of all time. The reveal of his conversation with Einstein, and Einstein’s words of wisdom to Oppenheimer was insightful and a perfect ending to such an anxiety-ridden, and morality-driven film.

Written by Mia Kosarek

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