Any film directed by Christopher Nolan is going to be hotly anticipated, but his next project feels particularly special. Oppenheimer is the director’s debut biopic and his first film since 2000’s Memento not to be distributed by Warner Bros., glued together by a cast that feels like the Avengers Assemble of Hollywood acting heavyweights.
Beyond the all-star lineup, Oppenheimer’s subject matter has the scope and weight we’ve come to associate with Nolan’s work. This is the story of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is among those credited as the “father of the atomic bomb” for his role in the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. With Cillian Murphy leading the charge, can this story about mankind’s most devastating creation become a cinematic event to rival his past works?
What is Oppenheimer about?
Based on American Prometheus, a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, Nolan’s film charts the theoretical physicist’s role in the Manhattan Project. Between 1942 and 1946, during the Second World War, the US led a research and development program to produce the first nuclear weapons.
The project’s foundations were initially formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, in response to fears that scientists working for Adolf Hitler were working on a nuclear weapon of their own. A team, composed of scientists and military officials, were tasked with investigating uranium’s potential as a weapon. This was later named the Office Of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) in 1941.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, which led to America joining the war effort on the Allies side, this project officially morphed into a military initiative led by Lieutenant General Leslie Groves of the Army Corps Of Engineers.
In 1943, Oppenheimer was appointed as director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico where the actual bombs were designed. This complex – also known as Project Y during its creation – was where the first Manhattan Project bombs were built and tested.
The Manhattan Project culminated in the first detonation of a nuclear weapon at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, as part of the Trinity test, on July 16, 1945. The bombs, designed to end the Second World War, were later used in devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on August 6 and August 9, 1945 respectively. The two bombs killed over 100,000 people and leveled both cities to the ground.
Two decades later in a TV interview in 1965, Oppenheimer reflected on the Trinity test. “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed. A few people cried. Most people were silent,” he said.
“I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him he takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’. I suppose we all felt that, one way or another.”
Oppenheimer died on February 18, 1967, aged 62, following a battle with throat cancer.
Who has been cast in Oppenheimer?
Cillian Murphy, a frequent collaborator with Nolan on films like Batman Begins and Dunkirk, has the lead role of Oppenheimer. He’s joined by Emily Blunt as wife Katherine ‘Kitty’ Oppenheimer, Matt Damon as Army Corps of Engineers overseer Leslie Groves, Robert Downey Jr. as Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss, and Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, a member of the Communist Party in the US who had a romantic relationship with Oppenheimer.
Other confirmed cast members include Benny Safdie as physicist Edward Teller, Josh Hartnett as physicist Ernest Lawrence, Matthew Modine as OSRD leader Vannevar Bush, Dylan Arnold as Robert’s younger brother Frank Oppenheimer and Michael Angarano as Robert Serber.
There’s also a heap with unknown roles, including Rami Malek, Dane DeHaan, Jack Quaid, Olli Haaskivi, Alden Ehrenreich, David Krumholtz, Kenneth Branagh, David Dastmalchian, Jason Clarke, Louise Lombard, Scott Grimes, Christopher Denham, James D’Arcy, David Rysdahl, Guy Burnet, Danny Deferrari, Josh Peck, Harrison Gilbertson, Emma Dumont, Matthias Schweighöfer, Gustaf Skarsgard, Devon Bostick, Alex Wolff, Tony Goldwyn, Trond Fausa Aurvag, Gary Oldman, Josh Zuckerman, Olivia Thirlby and Casey Affleck.
Has a trailer been released?
A teaser trailer for Oppenheimer was released on July 28, featuring Murphy and narration from a variety of characters who describe the physicist as “the man who moved the Earth”.
“You gave them the power to destroy themselves,” a voice says. “It made him the most important man who ever lived.”
What has the cast said about Oppenheimer?
Speaking to the Observer, Murphy explained his fascination with contradictory characters like Oppenheimer and Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders.
“I’m interested in the man and what [inventing the atomic bomb] does to the individual,” Murphy said. “The mechanics of it, that’s not really for me – I don’t have the intellectual capability to understand them, but these contradictory characters are fascinating.
“Tommy Shelby’s a complete contradiction, too. People identify with that, because we all walk around with these contradictory ideas coexisting in our heads.”
Why did Christopher Nolan part ways with Warner Bros. for Oppenheimer?
Nolan’s decision to switch from his longtime collaborators at Warner Bros. to Universal occurred after the director criticised the former’s plans to release their 2021 film slate simultaneously on streaming service HBO Max.
In a statement at the time, Nolan said: “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.