Top Of The World

Stars: Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey, Jr., Emily Blunt, Emma Dumont, Macon Blair, Gary Oldman, Harrison Gilbertson, Louise Lombard and Scott Grimes
Director/Scriptwriter: Christopher Nolan based on the book “American Prometheus” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
Composer: Ludwig Goransson
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Atlas Entertainment/Universal Pictures
Rating: R for nudity and content
Running Length: 180 Minutes

Director Christopher Nolan, seems to like directing films containing time travel, massive special effects and plots that are long to piece together.  Here is another one. In “Oppenheimer” you have 180 minutes in which the first 120 minutes is putting together a storyline concerning physics and its terminology, scientists of that time period (1930’s and onward) and the pursuit for power, whether it be invisible and blasting in the air toward you, or physical in that nations conquer nations in search of the elusive peace. The last 60 minutes ties some bits together, but by then, you either appreciate the lessons in quantum physics and beyond or can’t wait for the bomb to explode. We all know what bomb it is.

Cillian Murphy (looking quite like Julius Robert Oppenheimer and well-thought-out body motions) plays Oppenheimer as a naïve man with a brilliant mind and likes the ladies. There are nude scenes that did not have to be in the film.  Even at college age, he had a way of getting back at people. In later life, it was being at the top first and staying there. The film begins at college where he is homesick, then, in 1927, going to Gottingen University in Germany, where he learns German and does much better in studies. Along the way from Germany to University of California at Berkeley he meets Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), who becomes his lover. She is a brunette, and later Kitty Puening (also a brunette) whom he marries and raises a family with. The two ladies look so alike it can be confusing. Then, there is a third lady working in the office, who also has dark hair, Lilli Hornig (Olivia Thirlby) to add to the confusion. The other major figure in “Oppenheimer,” is Lewis Strauss (also well played by Robert Downey, Jr.). Straus is head of the Atomic Energy Commission. He, at first, is a friend to Oppenheimer and starts to promote him, until a moment in time where Strauss feels he has been snubbed, and the insidious plotting to over throw Oppenheimer begins. This is really a chess match and it is the weaving of these two characters throughout that makes the film interesting. Communism is present and to take Oppenheimer down, the opposition tries to make him and his friends out to be communists. The race is on between Russia and the United States to stop WWII and do it quickly. A bomb would do the job, and this is something that no one is supposed to know about. The United States is afraid that Germany will develop an atom bomb first. Thus, in 1942, begins the Manhattan Project centered in Los Alamos, New Mexico. However, the third party at the table in WWII is Japan. We are beyond cat-and-mouse here, it is cat against cat and literally, world domination.

In the film, Lewis Strauss sections are done in black and white, while Oppenheimer is in color print. There are three deciding moments in this film to watch for. The first is fleeting and between Einstein, Oppenheimer and Strauss. The second is also fleeting and toward the end of the film between Strauss and his aide. The third is when Oppenheimer, full of guilt at having built the bomb, is in President Truman’s office. (Gary Oldman plays Truman). The President sits next to Oppenheimer and says,” No one cares who made the bomb, but only who dropped it.” These moments literally speak volumes.  

Matt Damon is General Groves who first recruits Oppenheimer for a project of warfare (and watch Damon’s sly way of working).  It is about quantum physics and then beyond as they dream of first getting the land to use for a test site, and then to build a bomb and then to actually set the bomb off. Billions of dollars for a city, a bomb and then how to do it. Watching them build is like watching Buck Rogers in the 1930’s film serials where background props were flapping during filming. Radiation poisoning…what’s that?  The answer comes in a phone call from one wife to another---“…time to bring the sheets in off the line…”

I understand that the book “American Prometheus” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin is a massive tome filled with information and math. It would have taken a long time to go through it and get the information for a film. I find the last third of this movie to be interesting, and the first two-thirds to be long and, at times, not understandable. The last third of the film also has a private committee meeting to see if Oppenheimer could retain is Security Clearance. Another trying time for his family. So many characters – so many details to tie characters together. Oppenheimer’s face (and Cillian Murphy does look like J. Robert Oppenheimer) shows the emotions that pass through his mind as well as math equations. In real life, the man suffered from what may have been schizophrenia. He was a constant smoker and died of throat cancer in 1967.

Copyright 2023 Marie Asner