Oppenheimer: A Big Bang And A Whimper
This is a biopic on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist who predicted black holes, and led the American team that made the atom bomb.
The movie has a big star cast of well-known actors, some of them Oscar winners, as the personalities of that era, including Albert Einstein, with remarkable resemblance.
The make-up, showing the ageing of the characters, is great. People don’t just grey their hair here, but grow facial lines and go bald too, which is very realistic.
In the film, there are two levels of operation. On one, external level, the protagonist is attempting to successfully detonate an atom bomb. On the other, internal one, he is fighting the moral dilemma of his creation, while trying to defend his decisions and reputation.
It would not have been so interesting in a chronological order, so the film cleverly alternates between the decades, switching from colour to black & white, to keep the suspense alive.
They have shown the first ever nuclear explosion magnificently in its murderous majesty. And the expected sound effect got enhanced by its momentary absence. That was well done.
Music is gently supportive, without being too obtrusive. It helped build the suspenseful tempo during the countdown to the nuclear explosion.
During those tense moments, the young lady in the row ahead asked her partner, “Will the bomb explode?”
And, proving his acumen to be a great husband, he merely rotated his head in a complicated combination of sideways plus up and down movements that meant neither a yes nor a no!
Being a student of military history, I knew most details, at least of the explosion if not the trial, yet the film grabbed my attention almost throughout.
The film had subtitles, which were helpful, given the amount of talking they all do. But the captions created a problem sometimes.
Oppenheimer smoked—90 years ago—and the Censors have now inserted the mandatory warning ‘Smoking Kills.’ But, because he smokes so much, that warning comes too often in the film, sometimes turning profound dialogue into hilarious texts, like:
‘A prophet isn't allowed to be wrong. Not once. Smoking kills.’
‘They won't fear it until they understand it. And they won't understand it until they've used it. Smoking kills.’
The movie runs full three hours. Some scenes seem to go on and on, and if one is not clear about the context, the viewers may find it difficult to relate with. No wonder I saw some people walk out a little after the explosion.
Technically, the film is fine, but it is not an epic biography like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ or ‘Schindler’s List’ that shook and moved us without any prior knowledge of that man or his place in history.
As if just to prove that even famous directors can make mistakes, here’s one. After heavy rains through the night, prior to the explosion, the morning after has dry grounds and dusty winds. Try convincing us in the middle of monsoons!
But that’s minor and pardonable.
What is not minor is the sex scene involving the Bhagwad Gita.
Even in a trimmed version, that scene is impertinent and irrelevant. It has no further connection with the rest of the story, and the film would have been fine even without it.
If the aim was to show Oppenheimer’s vast intellect and his scholarly pursuit of diverse interests, they could have done it in a more serious or studious setting.
In a way, his dilemma about nuclear weapons was exactly like Arjun’s in Mahabharata. Both had the power, but both had doubts about the morality of using it, and the horrors of end results.
This, if any, is the only connection between the Gita and this film, but they have not mentioned it at all, because I suspect the makers are not aware of it.
I’m sure, Oppenheimer was a better timer, and knew when not to read a holy scripture.
So, more intriguing than the film is the question, just why did they include that scene?
Is it because controversy creates free publicity?
Nolan - no man! After Interstellar, this was neither interesting nor stellar.
The writer is a former fighter pilot of the IAF and is now a commercial airline pilot. He is the author of three novels and many blog posts, available at www.avinashchikte.com