Oppenheimer: Christopher Nolan shares reasoning for film’s most controversial moment

Director isn’t fussed by the criticism levied against horrific moment

Jacob Stolworthy
Friday 10 November 2023 08:22 GMT
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Oppenheimer trailer

Christopher Nolan has addressed one of the main criticism levied against his latest film Oppenheimer.

In July, the Inception and Interstellar director released the drama that chronicled the life of J Robert Oppenheimer, the man who masterminded the creation of the atomic bomb.

The film won huge acclaim from critics, as well as audiences, who showed up to see the film in their droves: at the time of writing, Oppenheimer has grossed $948.6m (£771.6m) at the global box office – from a budget of $100m (£81.3m) – and is the third highest-grossing film of the year, behind Barbie and The Super Mario Bros Movie.

Its takings also position it as the most successful biopic of all time, overtaking Freddie Mercury film Bohemian Rhapsody.

However, while the film was mostly praised by cinemagoers, there was a contingent of viewers who criticised a certain aspect of the film: its refusal to show the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings through the eyes of the victims. In the film, Oppenheimer learns of the detonations over the telephone.

The final act of the film shows the physicist reckoning with his guilt in the wake of the event, that killed an estimated 129,000 to 226,000 people, which left a lasting trauma that still affects the world. This is why, in what is the film’s most horrific scene, Oppenheimeris plagued with visions of those affected by the blast.

Nolan has brushed off this criticism in a new interview about the film’s success with Variety, stating: “The film presents Oppenheimer’s experience subjectively. It was always my intention to rigidly stick to that. Oppenheimer heard about the bombing at the same time that the rest of the world did.

He continued: “I wanted to show somebody who is starting to gain a clearer picture of the unintended consequences of his actions. It was as much about what I don’t show as what I show.”

Nolan also said he could never have predicted just how well Oppeneheimer would perform at the box office. It’s his third biggest hit behind his Batman sequels The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and The Dark Knight (2008).

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“With certain films, your timing is just right in ways that you never could have predicted,” he told the outlet. “When you start making a film, you’re two or three years out from when it’s going to be released, so you’re trying to hit a moving target as far as the interest of the audience. But sometimes you catch a wave and the story you’re telling is one people are waiting for.”

Director Christopher Nolan / Cillian Murphy in ‘Oppenheimer’

The film is one of the frontrunners to win Best Picture at the 2024 Oscars alongside Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, with Nolan himself hotly tipped to win Best Director. He was previously nominated in the category for war film Dunkirk (2017).

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