The wave-particle duality states that every particle or quantum entity can exist as a wave or a particle. J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) teaches a young pupil the foundation of quantum mechanics during a scene of director-writer Christopher Nolan’s newest movie Oppenheimer.

Christopher Nolan defies convention. He has made a career of using imaginative devices to tell a story. With Oppenheimer, he avoids falling into typical biographical territory. The duality concept is used to portray both the triumph and tragedy of its central character. This duality of existence permeates throughout the movie as the main storytelling vehicle.

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L to R: Robert Downey Jr is Lewis Strauss, and Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

The story is told from the objective and subjective perspectives of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr). Strauss formerly employed Oppenheimer at the Atomic Energy Commission. The two former colleagues are now at odds with each other. During the 1950s, both men are the subject of government hearing where they stand to lose their respected reputations. The different perspectives are differentiated by color or lack thereof. Cinematographer and frequent Nolan collaborator Hoyte Van Hoytem beautifully switches between vivid color and black-and-white imagery, indicating a shift in perspective.

These proceedings are the fulcrum Nolan uses to position the film. From here, he pivots to and from Oppenheimer’s life. Oppenheimer is a genius but is void of wisdom. He leads a scientific revolution with the introduction of the newly discovered quantum mechanics principles. Oppenheimer also leads the social revolution with his political ideas; his leanings contribute to the character persecution he faces at the hands of the government years after having led the Manhattan Project. At one point savior, at another point martyr.

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Ultimately duality reaches its consummation with Oppenheimer’s crowning achievement. The innovation of the atom bomb ended the Second World War at a terrible cost. A weapon meant to end all wars resulted in escalation. This race towards nuclear armament concludes in the stark reality of the world we live in today. As it relates to Oppenheimer, he would have to live with the horrifying and evolving consequences of his defining moment. Triumph and tragedy.

The experience is intense. The opening scenes bear witness to the immense power of nuclear energy. Throughout, audiences are pulled into the mind of a genius, experiencing the visions of surreal wonder and violent horror that both amaze and haunt J. Robert Oppenheimer. The percolating score composed by Ludwig Goransson moves from scene to scene. It is unrelenting in its mission of adding intensity and desperation to the entire affair. The movie grasps attention and for 3 hours barely lets go.

The actors led by an astounding Murphy are all deserving of platitudes. It would be no surprise if several cast members were to take home awards for their inspired performances.

Murphy plays Oppenheimer with spectacular aplomb. He inhabits the physicist’s frail frame and steely glare with all the necessary charisma, charm, anxiety, and vulnerability.

L to R: Emily Blunt is Kitty Oppenheimer and Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss gives his best performance since Zodiac. His character arc evolves from pure admiration and esteem to resentment and jealousy toward his colleague. Downey patiently strolls down his inevitable path ending in a stunning operatic outburst.

Moments of scientific banter between Oppenheimer and his esteemed colleagues, the likes of Neils Bohr (Kenneth Branagh), Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett), and Edward Teller (Benny Safdie), are fascinating to watch. His closest associates and empathizers, Isidor Rabi (David Krumholtz) and Haakon Chevalier (Jefferson Hall) add their own morsels of perspective.

L to R: Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer, Olli Haaskivi is Edward Condon, Matt Damon is Leslie Groves, and Dane Dehaan is Kenneth Nichols in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Matt Damon as General Groves carries an entirely different mindset on his patriotic shoulders. His performance peels back layers that eventually reveals deep conflict.

The loves of Oppenheimer’s life, Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) and Kitty Oppenheimer (Emily Blunt) also feature prominently. They both challenge Oppenheimer in unique ways. Jean shares similar sociopolitical views as her lover. She helps him reach a certain clarity to his purpose. Kitty implores her husband to fight back against those looking to muck his reputation. She struggles through post-partum depression, alcoholism, and the infidelity of Oppenheimer, but stands with him and pushes him during dire situations. Blunt more than earns best actress consideration in the future. These deep dives into the depths of Oppenheimer’s private family life rise to ecstatic heights and plunge into deep despair.

OPPENHEIMER, written and directed by Christopher Nolan

Oppenheimer’s piece de resistance is the Trinity test. The entire filmmaking team came together to create one of the most gut-wrenching and astounding scenes in the history of cinema. Visuals and sounds eventually come together to offer a literal bombastic experience. The characters’ reactions after witnessing the explosion range from amazement to bewilderment; with the full capacity of what they had experienced still not fully realized.

All superlatives are apropos when describing Oppenheimer. At just over 3 hours it is a behemoth of a movie. However, the runtime is ultimately not long enough to hold onto all of Nolan’s musings. Several viewings will help digest the hefty offering.

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Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

“We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality…”-Albert Einstein refers to the duality paradox. Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious and most important film to date. His unique approach to storytelling and filmmaking pays harrowing dividends this time around. Before the film ends, Nolan poses one last paradoxical proposition: is a world that will stop at nothing to survive destined to destroy itself? The closing scene will undoubtedly sear into viewers’ minds.

Borja’s rating 10/10

What do you think of Oppenheimer? Let us know in the comments below! Watch Oppenheimer on the big screen on July 21, 2023.

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