[Two Takes on Oppenheimer] Oppenheimer’s Intense 3-Hour Runtime Doesn’t Waste a Single Second

17 August 2023 / by Alexa Arevalo
[Two Takes on Oppenheimer] Oppenheimer’s Intense 3-Hour Runtime Doesn’t Waste a Single Second
Nolan secures yet another hit in cinemas 3 years after Tenet

Power, exploitation, cowardice, regret and the lack thereof – Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, is a harrowing film that explores these themes over the course of a tense 3 hours. While it is often paired with its counterpart, Barbie, due to the online “Barbenheimer”  trend, Oppenheimer is a story best watched on its own – or at the very least with an intermission long enough to prepare for the feeling it leaves you with once the credits roll. 


In a sold-out IMAX screening of more than 300 people, this film’s tension was palpable. It felt as though every sound, every frame, was chosen to incite anxiety and restlessness. It is a dialogue-heavy, R-rated, historical biopic, but it also proves itself to be far more than that. With performances that bring to life an introspective, grim story, and sound design, cinematography, and visual effects that do the same, Nolan has easily earned a contending spot for the best release of the year. 


Based on the biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the film follows Oppenheimer’s life, from his days as a student – to the beginning of the Manhattan Project, and his life after the tragedy wrought by his creation. With these facts laid bare, the film switches between two perspectives: Oppenheimer’s, and his opposition, Lewis Strauss’ – cleverly showcased by a combination of shots in colour, and black and white. Nolan’s emphasis on the stark contrast between both perspectives almost works to highlight the movie’s subtleties, as well. Sure, one perspective is shown as one way, and the other, the opposite – but as alluded to, there is no protagonist in this story. No one in Oppenheimer is a hero. 


Despite this, there has been some debate over Nolan’s Westernized, American-centric perspective of this entire historical period, questioning his choice to focus more on the egotistical, inhumane choices of the United States. To that I ask, wasn’t that the point? The political figures running the United States during the time of the Second World War held no regard for the value of human life outside of the country. They did not even hold regard for groups like the Indigenous people residing in Los Alamos, the site used for the testing of the atomic bomb within their own country. Other perspectives must not have crossed their minds once. 


Besides, I found the nauseating depictions during Oppenheimer’s speech in the gym, paired with the heart-stopping, abrupt screams of the victims he pictures in his mind to be clear enough. I don’t think this film would fare better with scenes of that matter – when it would teeter on the line of shock-value a little too closely. 


As Nolan’s 12th film in the director’s seat, as well as his first following the controversially received Tenet, he has once again proved the vast range of his filmmaking. From the visual effects- to the sound design- to his uncanny casting of every major character in this film, this is a movie worth watching on as big of a screen as possible. Oppenheimer is an audio-visual spectacle decorated with award-winning performances from a star-studded cast, and everything which complements it makes this an easy 5 stars for me.