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‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Man for Our Time – UnlistedNews

The story tracks Oppenheimer, played with feverish intensity by Cillian Murphy, through decades, beginning in the 1920s with him as a young adult and continuing until his hair turns gray. The film addresses personal and professional milestones, including his work on the bomb, the controversies that dogged him, the anti-communist attacks that nearly ruined him, as well as the friendships and romances that helped sustain him but also troubled him. He has an affair with a political agitator named Jean Tatlock (a vibrant Florence Pugh), and then marries a drunken seductress, Kitty Harrison (Emily Blunt, in a slow twist), who accompanies him to Los Alamos, where she gives birth to their second child.

It’s a dense, eventful story that Nolan, who has long embraced the plasticity of the film medium, has given a complex structure, which he divides into revealing sections. Most are exuberantly colored; others in high-contrast black and white. These sections are arranged in strands that wind together in a way reminiscent of the double helix of DNA. To signal his conceit, he stamps the film with the words “fission” (a division into parts) and “fusion” (a fusion of elements); Since Nolan is Nolan, he further complicates the film by recurrently altering the overall chronology: that’s a lot.

Nor is it a story that builds gradually; rather, Nolan abruptly throws you into the whirlwind of Oppenheimer’s life with vivid scenes of him during different periods. In quick succession, the older vigilante Oppie (as he is called by those close to him) and his younger counterpart appear on screen before the story briefly lands in the 1920s, where he is an angsty student haunted by fiery, apocalyptic visions. He suffers; he also reads TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” drops a needle in Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” and stands in front of a Picasso painting, defining works from an age when physics bent space and time into space-time.

This fast pace and narrative fragmentation continues as Nolan completes this cubist portrait, crossing and re-crossing continents and ushering in armies of characters, including Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh), a physicist who played a role in the Manhattan Project. Nolan has loaded the film with familiar faces: Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Gary Oldman, some distracting ones. It took me a while to accept director Benny Safdie as Edward Teller, the theoretical physicist known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb,” and I still don’t know why Rami Malek appears in a minor role other than he’s another well-known commodity.

As Oppenheimer comes into focus, so does the world. In 1920’s Germany, he learns quantum physics; the next decade he’s at Berkeley teaching, bouncing with other young geniuses, and building a center for the study of quantum physics. Nolan makes the intellectual excitement of the time palpable: Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1915, and, unsurprisingly, there’s a great deal of scientific debate and blackboards full of perplexing calculations, most of which Nolan translates quite understandably. One of the joys of the film is experiencing by proxy the kinetic excitement of intellectual discourse.

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Sara Marcus
Sara Marcushttps://unlistednews.com
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.
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