Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” (2023) has broken box office records recently, becoming the highest-grossing biopic, with a worldwide box office of $926 million, beating out the previous leader, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018).
“Oppenheimer” is the latest in the stream of biopics the film industry has produced in the last few years, but, unlike the smash hits “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman,” “Oppenheimer” tackles a different kind of “rockstar.”
The film is the most recent entry in Nolan’s filmography, joining the critically acclaimed ranks of “Dunkirk,” “Memento” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy, in addition to many others, and it seems that critics agree it will be put up as one of Nolan’s absolute best movies to date.
“Oppenheimer” tells the story of the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer and his time before, during and after the Manhattan Project. The film dives into the physicist's personal and professional life, as well as how he felt following the end of World War II. Nolan tells the story out of order to build tension and add more of a narrative element to these real events, as there are twists and turns that might take a viewer who is familiar with the scientist’s life for a ride.
In addition to having an incredibly well-written script, “Oppenheimer” is a technical marvel, as all of the effects in the movie are practical From the movement of atoms to the nuclear bombs, all of the effects were done without the use of CGI. While the explosions were an obvious highlight, Nolan’s use of less grandiose effects, like swirling lights and glitter in water to show how Oppenheimer viewed concepts in physics and atoms, was an engaging visual that, while simple, provided a lot to the film’s style and visual identity.
The film’s fantastic sound editing and mixing also gave an incredible sense of weight and purpose to the entire movie, from the blisteringly loud noise of explosions to the deafening silence between characters, the sound design team did a fantastic job giving the movie an identity beyond the visuals.
Having the fireball blow up on screen, silently, only for the sound to make both the characters and audience jump in shock a second later was a brilliant idea from a sound design perspective, giving a feeling of anticipation from the initial flash, to the inevitable boom. The most surprising thing about the sound design is that the nuclear test wasn’t the loudest scene in the film. Instead it’s the moment where Oppenheimer is being praised for building the nuke, an action that, at that point, he had come to regret.
Nolan’s previous work has left a clear mark on this film, as there are plenty of ‘superhero’ scenes, such as one where Oppenheimer is called to action, with a classic over-the-shoulder shot, where he picks up his iconic hat and cigar off of a table, and essentially says “I’m in.” Some might find this a little schlocky, taking the seriousness of the film away in favor of a little cheesy drama, but it adds a spectacle to the film that more than makes up for the occasional corny scene.
"Oppenheimer” is a marvel of filmmaking, and proof that a biopic can be more than a simple retelling of a famous person’s life. Where many in the genre would portray the subject of the film in a favorable light, with the occasional regulated jab, “Oppenheimer” isn’t afraid to tell the story from multiple perspectives, showing the good and bad of the doctor, painting him as a much more gray figure than most biopics would dare to do. Christopher Nolan once again shows that he is willing to go above and beyond for yet another smash hit that will shape how biopics are made from here to come.
Milo Anderson is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in film. He is a reporter and podcaster at the Campus Citizen. Milo is also in a band and enjoys watching movies, fiction writing, and playing games with his friends.