The big bang theory

Will Ferris
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Oppenheimer (15, 180 Minutes)

Upon leaving a screening of Oppenheimer, you may find yourself in something of a daze. The kind that accompanies you after you’ve been spun around on a rollercoaster. You may look down at your hands and find yourself trembling, such were the effects that had come upon me.

If there’s something that will stay with you after this film, it’s a hard sense of foreboding. A fear that whatever happens in this world, no matter how bad it is, how shocking it reverberates in the hearts and minds of every human being on the planet, we will never learn from our mistakes. Morality has gone out the window.

In this biopic about the life, career and complicated moral compass of J. Robert Oppenheimer – played by the outstanding, and inevitable Best Actor at the next Oscars, Cillian Murphy – we study the scientist’s life from his days as a Ph.D student, rising up through the scientific ranks to become a highly respected figure in the research of physics.

His friendships with members of the Communist Party, including an on/off fling with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), gain him a reputation for being both a lothario and a friendly, but shady figure, along with his no-nonsense wife Kitty (Emily Blunt) who likes a few too many drinks in the evening.

When the Second World War begins, Oppenheimer is called upon by General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to build a highly destructive weapon against the Axis. So begins the development of an atomic bomb. Fuelled by his hatred of Nazi antisemitism – Oppenheimer himself being jewish – he pioneers the Manhattan Project to end “all wars”.

But when he witnesses first hand its colossal power of destruction, and when the US takes control of the bomb and drops it on Hiroshima, Oppenheimer attempts to rally colleagues and politicians to reject the use of weapons of mass destruction amid the Cold War, only to have his security clearance removed and his political influence wiped by his conniving rival Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.).

This is a film that should be watched by all – world leaders more than anyone. It is a bold tale of consequence; a cry for sanity and reason. Christopher Nolan is a master of the cinematic craft, weaving this tale of a haunted man staring into the blaze of a future filled with destruction. Coming in at three hours long, the extensive run time is in no way detrimental to the viewing experience. I was transfixed, captivated, terrified.

What an ensemble cast. Downey Jr. returns to the screen with his finest role to date. Strauss is a scheming snake of a man. Like Iago, he manipulates and throws friends under the bus for the sake of his own ambitions.

Emily Blunt is as hard as nails. Her accent may hover at times, but her eyes are like a furnace, scorching anyone who gets too close.

Matt Damon was supposed to be taking a break from the screen for some family time – with the proviso “Unless Chris Nolan calls”. Groves is a likeable figure for the first act of the film, but the overarching, unsettling lesson Nolan is trying to stress is that no matter how good a character’s intentions may be, or how likable they may appear, they are just as uneven, questionable and, in some cases, corruptible as us all. They’re all very human.

A prime example of this is the McCarthyism of the third act, in which the repercussions of Oppenheimer’s downfall reflect on Strauss’ damned bid to become Secretary of Commerce. You never know which way a character will move on the chess board of politics.

The pièce de résistance is Murphy. Even post Peaky Blinders this is a career defining performance, the ultimate flex of his ability and one that film students, theorists, actors alike will study for years to come. Truly one of the most important, haunting performances to ever be pulled off, and with such masterful flair.

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” he whispers to himself, gazing into an inferno of our own destruction. A possibility which, day after day, creeps into becoming a reality.

In all likelihood the next Academy Awards already has its big winner. It was also such a wonderful feeling sitting in a cinema filled to the brim and with such a great atmosphere.

Barbenheimer, you’ve been a blast.

RATING: 10/10