Wed | Nov 29, 2023

‘Oppenheimer’ – A triumph of terror

Published:Monday | July 24, 2023 | 12:08 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Cillian Murphy in a scene from ‘Oppenheimer’.
Cillian Murphy in a scene from ‘Oppenheimer’.

As a young man with visions of a hidden universe, J. Robert Oppenheimer lies in his Cambridge University dorm, beset by an inability to rest. He’s instantly portrayed as brilliant, yet carries with him a darkness. His mind might be unmatched, but his humanity screams louder than any theory he could present. At times he is cruel, other times cold and unfeeling, and then overwhelmingly ridden with guilt. The most important man who ever lived, creating a weapon without an equal.

Oppenheimer takes such a complicated figure and fastens you in to his unique perspective. As you watch the development of the atomic bomb, you’re infinitely intrigued by its herald. Cillian Murphy’s performance of the legendary scientist is multifaceted, seeming vulnerable and exposed in one frame, yet operatic and enigmatic in the next.

The invention itself has a devastating effect, but the film’s warning goes beyond the terror of dropped of the bomb. The sequence in which the bomb is first tested is nothing short of an audio-visual marvel, but the true danger of the film lies in the protagonist’s presence. As he corrals the world’s scientists to follow behind him Robert Oppenheimer is magnetic, more akin to a cult leader than a lowly whitecoat. His followers express their qualms, but with one impassioned speech he rallies the troops towards a terrible victory.

Despite this statement on statesmen, Oppenheimer is non-committal in its portrayal of its subject. As much as it delves into the psyche of its titular character, it makes very little stride in a definitive conclusion on his character. Oppenheimer will leave you with more information than you might have had about the father of the atomic bomb, but undoubtedly create several questions, as well. The film leaves you to pass your judgement on the man himself, his actions, and his feelings towards them when all is said and done.

At three hours, Oppenheimer is a formidable epic, that has a chilling effect. It’s a character-driven piece that moves at a brisk pace with some of the best performances of the year. It’s ability to maintain focus despite drifting between timelines and colour palettes is a technical miracle. The weight of the world created in the wake of nuclear war is demonstrated heavily. Seeing it in the cinema is imperative. Leaving it without a severe sense of dread is nigh impossible.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.