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Oppenheimer: Mystic Fiction & Historical Reflection

Oppenheimer is based on the real life events of the Manhattan Project. [PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES]

Oppenheimer, Director Christopher Nolan’s chilling biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, has generated $925.9 million internationally (as of late September 2023) since its release on July 21. Starring Cillian Murphy as the eponymous main character alongside other acclaimed actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Emily Blunt, the film depicts the top-secret Manhattan Project – during which a team of American scientists developed the atomic bomb in a scientific innovation race against the Nazis – and the ramifications of the dropping of such a bomb on Japan, marking the United States’ victory at the end of World War II. 

Through Nolan’s unique blending of historical accuracy and obscure fiction, as well as Murphy’s impeccable embodiment of Oppenheimer’s intellectual brilliance and internal moral conflict, Oppenheimer not only portrays the sense of uncertainty and foreboding America was experiencing during World War II, but it also questions the prioritization of scientific innovation at the cost of morality. Additionally, smaller details like the eerie string music that charts Oppenheimer’s story and Nolan’s strategic alternation between different color palettes for different characters’ perspective immerses audiences into this unsettling story even further.

However, a considerable amount of backlash has been directed towards the film from Japanese viewers regarding the film’s lack of focus placed on the devastation that Japan endured after the dropping of the bombs. The only aspect of the film that remotely addresses the suffering that Nagasaki and Hiroshima went through was a scene showcasing the reactions of Oppenheimer and other scientists to President Truman’s radio announcement confirming the droppings. Though it is true that the movie is centered more on the development of the bomb itself rather than the war it was used for, the unforgettable destruction that was inflicted upon Japan is an element of this historical event that simply cannot be swept under the rug. Shedding light on the bomb’s impact on Japan could have not only given a voice to the Japanese victims of the bombing, but it could have also further served the film’s purpose as a cautionary tale for the dangerous consequences of nuclear weapon innovation. 

Despite this, Oppenheimer is a thought-provoking and deeply moving cinematic masterpiece that not only immerses audiences into this intensely complex event in history, but provokes them to challenge the placement of scientific discovery over human decency. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

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