Poffy The Cucumber

The REAL Quantum Mania.

Christopher Nolan’s OPPENHEIMER follows the “father of the atomic bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, as he gathers geniuses, cockblocks politicians, and bangs mistresses. A breakneck political thriller with loads of intrigue and dramatic flourish, with an award-winning performance by Cillian Murphy (PEAKY BLINDERS) as the titular physicist, who delved into the quantum realm and actually conquered it. (It’s a pity that in this era, kids equate ‘quantum realm’ with the stupid ANT MAN franchise – look here, hillbillies! Here is the man who made leaps and bounds into the theoretical physics of the smaller-than-microscopic world where splitting an atom would unleash the catastrophic energy held within its quantum embrace.)

Matt Damon is General Leslie Groves, whose mission was specifically to develop an atomic bomb (after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, dragging America into WWII); in October 1942, he would appoint Oppenheimer as director of the top-secret Los Alamos facility in the New Mexico desert, code-named The Manhattan Project (because the initial research was done at Columbia University in Manhattan, New York). David Krumholtz is Oppie’s American scientist friend Isidor Rabi, whose excitement at impending success is tempered by the ramifications of their creation: “I don’t wish the culmination of physics to be a weapon of mass destruction.”

After a July 1945 test detonation in New Mexico, code-named “Trinity” (the world’s first nuclear explosion!), an atomic bomb is deployed on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 – and then again on Nagasaki, Japan, August 9, 1945 – that effectively ended the Japanese continuing the war after Germany’s surrender in May 1945.

Then, in a paranoiac frenzy, the American government came after Oppenheimer…

If ever there was a movie that needed title cards introducing its players…

I worship the metaphysical charred ground these titans of physics walk upon, yet I couldn’t latch onto any characters due to the pace of the film. I love the fact that Nolan doesn’t treat his viewers like idiots (avoiding explanations of physics; introducing characters with a minimum of dialogue; not titling the non-chronological timeline), but all these men whose brainpower literally shaped the Earth physically and geopolitically, should be publicized and thrown aloft on the pedestals they deserve to be on.

More blowing up reputations, less blowing up test sites, please.

There are scores of key figures in physics here, including: creator of the atom model, Neils Bohr (Kenneth Branagh); architect of the nuclear age, Enrico Fermi (Danny DeFerrari); father of the H-bomb, Edward Teller (Benny Safdie); creator of the Uncertainty Principle and the best damn meth in New Mexico, Werner Heisenberg (Matthias Schweighöfer); my favorite rebel theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman (Jack Quaid – Hughie from THE BOYS; I didn’t even know who he was portraying until I saw him at a party banging bongos – Feynman’s trademark!); and of course, the man synonymous with science and physics and genius itself, Albert Einstein (Tom Conti, in a beautiful, empathetic performance)…

Failing keeping track of the physicists, to keep our interest, there’s the Hollywood Sex – that’s where the girl is on top, cowboy style. As one of Oppie’s mistresses, it’s commendable that Florence Pugh doesn’t wear a bra during sex scenes (and she is quite game to perform nude surrounded by a table full of clothed men, in one of Oppie’s guilt-ridden fever dreams), but her whining about Oppie being too busy to spend time with her is way missing the mark on why this movie should exist.

More atomic reactions, less jilted women reactions, please.

Matter of fact, Oppenheimer’s famous quote from the Bhagavad Gita – “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” – is narrated during a sex scene. How’s that for irony? (Irony because sex is an act of life – I gotta remind all the MeToo’s and anti-choicers and safe-sexers – not a sentence of death.)

Emily Blunt is Oppie’s wife, Kitty, with a kid who is always crying. So is she. Any wonder he’s away from home doing math so much? She urges him to fight the government instead of taking their accusations lying down, but is unaware of the corner Oppie is backed into. Nonetheless, she is portrayed as tough as a woman can be (in those sexist times when women scientists were kept far from nuclear projects because the radiation would affect their wombs!), as she puts up with Oppie’s mistresses, maybe because she knew that his one true mistress was physics, an insatiable curse that none of those warm bodies could fulfill, not even hers.

Jason Clarke is the Special Counsel at Oppenheimer’s security hearing, determined to label him a communist. Josh Hartnett is physicist Ernest Lawrence, who would refuse to testify against his friend Oppie. Rami Malek is physicist David Hill, who would be Oppie’s savior in the hearing. (Do yourself a favor and look up all these names and their Promethean contributions to the technological civilization we now take for granted.)

The Trinity Test is the most distinctive segment of the movie, detailed with all the wonder and anxiety leading up to it, accompanied by Ludwig Göransson’s (CREED) heart-palpitating soundtrack: wondering if the atomic chain reaction will trigger the Earth’s whole atmosphere into burning? (The chances were not exactly zero.) With everyone unsure of exactly how extreme the blast and shockwave and radiation fallout area would be, we see them donning welder’s goggles, laying face-down on the ground, in bunkers – I’m not sure how many miles away the blast was, but it seems unnecessarily callous how most of them stayed in the open. When the blinding-white explosion happens, there is silence. And then the shockwave hits. And then the radiation strobes into those delicate wombs. And Dumbo Donald republiKKKans are born…

After Trinity, Oppenheimer is hesitant about bombing Japan (i.e., humans), but he hardly has a say anymore. He would rail against further research into the hydrogen bomb, tormented by the paradox of his own making: in trying to stop global annihilation, he himself had created the means.

Movie does not make clear that TWO types of bombs were created at Los Alamos – Little Boy (uranium fission, Hiroshima), and Fat Man (plutonium implosion, Nagasaki).

Movie titles opened with the legend of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods to bring to Man, and how he was tortured for eternity for that deed. So too would Oppenheimer be spiritually tortured for the rest of his life, the reality of the bomb haunting him: hundreds of thousands of civilians murdered and wounded horrifically, skin burning, charred bodies, radiation sickness, Godzilla appearing, etc.

Dr. Serizawa: He’ll kill your allegory.

The original 1954 GOJIRA movie was a scathing retort against the American bombing of Hiroshima. In the movie, Dr. Serizawa laments the WMD he has created to annihilate Gojira, and echoes the sentiment of the atomic bomb’s creator: “If the [WMD] is used even once, the politicians of the world won’t stand idly by. They’ll inevitably turn it into a weapon – A-bombs against A-bombs, H-bombs against H-bombs … adding another terrifying weapon to mankind’s arsenal is something I can’t allow.”

… and then the physical torturing would begin…

From the book by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Vintage Books, 2006), Christopher Nolan has crafted a drama in the style of a thriller where there’s an actual villain we can pinpoint — in the form of Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); with some training in physics, he advocated for the next step – the hydrogen bomb – even as Oppenheimer remorsefully vetoed the idea. Oppenheimer would make a fool of Strauss at a public hearing (making the aspiring physicist seem like an errant child ignorant of the Promethean physics forces Oppie was wielding), which would forever eat at Strauss, leading him to betrayal, requesting Hoover’s FBI investigate Oppie for Communist affiliations, which would ultimately get Oppie’s government security clearance revoked.

Robert Downey Jr.: Not going Full Strauss.

Downey has said that he “forgot how to act” in playing Iron Man over the last 14 years, Tony Stark’s personality being so close to his own that he didn’t need to invest much energy in the character; adding he was happy for this role completely removed from Marvel sorcery. Although he has gone deep here, I can’t honestly say he “disappeared” into the role (like a Day-Lewis or an Oldman) – we can still see traces of Stark. (Speaking of Gary Oldman, he is here as President Truman, but you might not even recognize him because – Gary Oldman!)

More physics, less Iron Man please…

This movie’s climax might make it seem like Strauss was the nemesis behind all Oppenheimer’s government tribulations (almost like SPECTRE retconned Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld, when he claimed to be the architect behind all Bond’s pain for the past 50 years), but American paranoia was sky-high, especially with its many disenchanted citizens dabbling in communism. There were other factions or insulted colleagues who would contribute to Oppie’s excision from the inner sanctum, most of them using communism to paint a target on him. Anyone who associated with known communists was regarded a “traitor,” and Oppie’s social circles were loaded with dabblers, including his brother Frank (Dylan Arnold).

The atomic bomb: a *real* death star.

I would’ve loved to have heard more about the construction of the bomb itself, that we see in brief shots: What was that steel sphere in the center? Why are those outer panels shaped like that? How did dropping it ignite the chain reaction to split the atom?

Movie closes with Oppenheimer pondering with Einstein, on how their work has wrought what they feared – the ultimate destruction of Earth, by unleashing real quantum mania.


OPPENHEIMER (Jul 2023) | R
Director: Christopher Nolan.
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird , Martin Sherwin.
Music: Ludwig Göransson.
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Scott Grimes, Jason Clarke, Kurt Koehler, Tony Goldwyn, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Conti, David Krumholtz, Matthias Schweighöfer, Josh Hartnett, Alex Wolff, Michael Angarano, Dylan Arnold, Florence Pugh, Jefferson Hall, Britt Kyle, Matthew Modine, David Dastmalchian, Matt Damon, Dane DeHaan, Jack Quaid, Benny Safdie, Danny Deferrari, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Gary Oldman, James Remar.
Word Count: 1,620      No. 1,625
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Robert Oppenheimer, 1965 ◊ Was the bomb necessary?

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