Christopher Nolan’s flawed retelling of The Wizard of Oz and the disneyfication of history
Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan, 2024) is being hailed as a modern classic. Believing the hype and liking some of of the director’s previous work, I went to see it on Imax. I did stay for the whole movie, unfortunately far from entertained or enlightened by the experience, but increasingly angry. It was the worst film I’ve seen in some time. What follows below is not so much a review but my interpretation and an account of my experience, and it does contain spoilers.
From the start, the film is confusing. It displays the text 1. Fission on screen which led me to believe that the narrative was going to be split into parts, but very soon after 2. Fusion is displayed, with no explanation, and there are no other such titles for the rest of the three hours. Parts of the film are in monochrome, others in colour, a similar device to The Wizard of Oz (1939). I think this is to indicate those events in colour where Oppenheimer was present and related in flashback (though the flashback pretence also disappears) and those events in monochrome where he was not or through the perspective of Robert Downey Jnr’s character, the moustache-twirling villain Lewis Strauss.
This idea of first-person perspective has featured largely in the promotion of the film, and also in the past week to excuse some of the more egregious aspects that will be considered below. Apparently the script was written in the first person, though of course no element of the film is shot that way. The most notable film to use that device was Dark Passage (1947) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, where for the first few acts Bogart’s face is not seen and other actors, notably Bacall, interact directly with the camera. Given the screen time that an extreme close-up of Cillian Murphy’s face is given in Oppenheimer, this seems not to have been considered.
If the pretence is that this is all Oppenheimer’s perspective, then there are some startling omissions in what we do know about the guiding elements of his character.
There is practically no science in the film at all — which is extremely odd, given that this is surely the core of the central character’s being and underlies all his professional and personal relationships. It’s…