Listen now | Today’s movie is Oppenheimer directed by Christopher Nolan.
I don't have much time to watch movies these days but I absolutely wanted to see Oppenheimer and wanted to hear your take on it. I'm really interested in cinema that treats science seriously and talks about the interplay between nature and human inventivity so I was curious to see how Nolan would tackle the subject.
I think I liked the movie more than you did, even though I see where you are coming from. I have not seen The Wind Rises, but based on your description, it's also what I would have liked to see in Oppenheimer. Nolan should have found a way to put actual design and science in the movie. Also, I would have liked to have a better feel of the complexity of the logistics of building Los Alamos, finding the scientists, etc.
Regarding the script and the comparison with Sorkin, I'm not sure Nolan intended to go for a very tight narrative like Sorkin does. As you said, he is not completely successful at being surreal or impressionistic either, but nonetheless, I really liked what he was going for with that. On a scene-by-scene basis, like you said some of it does not really make any sense, but I liked the cumulative effect. What I mean is there's no real emotional payoff or thematic coherence for some scenes like the poisoning of the apple or the courtroom sex scene, but on the whole, I thought it conveyed the weird worldview of the character. I especially liked the sex scene in the interrogation room, like you said it was ambiguous which point of view it was depicting. At first, I thought it was his wife's, but then I thought it was Oppenheimer watching himself from the point of view of his wife. The only other movie I can think of doing something kind of similar is Strange Days by Kathryn Bigelow. it's an unusual narrative device and I thought it was a good way to indicate that he could adopt different viewpoints (maybe empathize with his wife?) and visualize things vividly. I think we see some of that throughout the movie, he has that kind of oblique thinking process whether it is for science or in his social relationships.
For the emotional core of the movie, I thought the speech scene in the auditorium was really well made. It's not completely obvious because we are accustomed to very loud sound design in action movies, but for a movie that does psychological realism like Oppenheimer, it was very startling. And I kind of like how the ending of the movie is completely hollow, even though the last hour or so is completely boring I liked how it contrasted with the rest.
So all in all I think it's a very interesting movie even with its flaws. Even though it's a big-budget film, some aspects of the movie reminded me more of 19th and early 20th-century poetry and philosophy that tried to capture the dynamism of natural phenomena (electricity, chemistry, etc.) as well as evolving and dynamic thinking processes. Holderlin, Wallace Stevens, Edgar Allen Poe, and Francis Ponge all did some kind of version of that. For a cinematic comparison, Oppenheimer is not as slow as Tarkovsky, but nonetheless, you also see in it people reflecting on nature, like you can see in Stalker for example. (https://youtu.be/Q3hBLv-HLEc?t=4629). There's also Godard who adapted the Power of Words by Edgar Allen Poe, it looks a lot like some scenes in Oppenheimer. (here's the ending: https://youtu.be/3l_qxbtwIDQ?t=1434 , and the text by Poe: https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/147/the-works-of-edgar-allan-poe/5227/the-power-of-words/ )
It was a good way to reconnect with the movie theater experience, I also didn't go watch a movie since the pandemic!