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Oppenheimer also misses grossly and loudly

Regissør: Christopher Nolan

NUCLEAR BOMBS / Oppenheimer is an epic biographical thriller. But the film about the enigmatic man has its weaknesses. A proposal to most people with entertainment instead of facts?


It's confusing. Who thought that premiering the movies would be a good idea Oppenheimer og Barbie simultaneous? Linking ultra-violence ("Now I've become death, the destroyer of the world" – bang!) with ultra-sex?

Do we need any more signs that it's over for human civilization? Here, the pull of capital has finally found a way to make us munch popcorn and weep over Oppy's loss of national security status because he once had links to communism—or that Robbie has bravely taken Rosa-Barbie out of her anorexia nervosa stage and hangs around the cornucopia gang.

The American is swallowed with skin and hair, it is yin and yang, sex and death, just as Freud feared The discomfort in the culture (1929, no. 1966): to pop popcorn for a movie about atomic bombs. Imagine that! We simply cannot take it noe seriously more or what?

So why would you go see the movie? Is it a nod, a tribute to the non-binary Orientalists? Or some kind of AI inside joke? A solidarity stand for poor old Alan Turing and the singularity of the future? Or is it just omnipotence versus impotence? What a double performance!

What's left of the left is wringing its hands in despair and replaying old Dylan tunes, disgusted by how messed up Hollywood is. Oppenheimer should have been an important learning moment, for those of us who tend to forget, who look at Jewish friends with mild bewilderment when they say, "Never again." «What do you mean, Isak??” we say. And they drag their legs behind them, muttering to the wall.

American Prometheus

I saw Oppenheimer yesterday. His story has been told several times now. This version is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin (2006).

The cast includes Cillan Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer; Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer; Matt Damon as General Leslie Groves; Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss; Tom Conti as Albert Einstein; Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr and Matthias Schweighöfer as Werner Heisenberg. It's a fantastic cast for the blast from the past (although the film would have been better with David Byrne as Oppenheimer, and the late star actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as General Grove).

It's an epic biographical thriller, but about as exciting as vanilla, and I feel like all this shingles and nuclear fear should have ripped my heart in half. But as Peggy Lee sang: "Is That All There Is?"

The film follows Bird and Sherwin's delineation and therefore begins at the end of Oppenheimer's career. In December 1953 suspended Atomic Energy Commission Oppenheimer's security clearance, fearing that although he could be considered a loyal American citizen, his past association with communists was problematic. In addition, his speeches followed Hiroshima about the need to control the spread of nuclear weapons through UN measures. He outraged right-wing militarists and political fascists, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy – and President Harry Truman, who referred to him as a «sippy youngster».

He outraged right-wing militarists and political fascists, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy.

The Commission's decision was influenced by a FBI-report which claimed that "it was more likely than not that J. Robert Oppenheimer was an agent of the Soviet Union". The three-hour film attempts to be faithful to Oppy's plea to judge his existential being by the totality of his life, rather than via reactionary insults and aggressive patriotism.

The commission's action meant that Oppenheimer could neither work nor learn about future ones nuclear weaponsprojects. Even more important was the much publicized attack on his status (and legacy) as the father of the atomic bomb, which tarnished his name and left him deeply depressed. The frontal assault was led by Washington lawyer Roger Robb, known for his "cruel cross-examination technique" as a prosecutor – brilliantly played by Jason Clarke, who made us "believe in torture» i sin role i Zero Dark Thirtyı (2012)

As the authors of American Prometheus wrote: "When Oppenheimer's critics in 1954 attacked his political stance and professional judgment—his life and his values—they revealed many aspects of his character: his ambition and insecurity, his brilliance and naivety, his determination and fear, his stoicism and his confusion .”

To end all wars…

This deeply conflicted, yet calm and highly literate Oppie is what director Christopher Nolan is trying to recreate on the big screen. Recently, actor Murphy summed up how he approached the role of Oppenheimer – like playing the enigmatic man. And that the rationale for continuing to develop the bomb was the counterintuitive notion that it would make all war obsolete: "I think he thought it would be the weapon that would end all wars," Murphy told the website NME: "He thought it [having the bomb] would motivate nations to form some sort of global nuclear governing body. He was naive.” Indeed, the UN has proven to fall short in stopping the dominant nation-states. In the film, in a scene shortly after the successful explosion of the atomic bomb (which will end all war), Oppie is talking to Edward Teller. When the former says that he hopes the message will be understood as "all war will now be unthinkable", Teller immediately replies that "yes, maybe, until a bigger bomb appears".

I have read other descriptions of the relationship between Teller and Oppenheimer, which unfortunately ruined my enjoyment and experience of the film. Daniel Ellsberg, for example, as in his last book before he died (The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner) – the book he said he wished had been published before The Pentagon Papers – writes that when he came out of the cinema after seeing Dr. Strangelove (1964) with a mate, they were convinced they had seen a 'documentary film'. Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove was like the real-life Edward Teller.

Director Nolan is unaware of realpolitik.

We got to see little of this tension, or friction if you will, in the film. Director Nolan lands on 'naive', and thus paints a picture of all left-wing rhetoricians – after the double salvo against Japan – as ignorant of realpolitik.

The Song of God

Oppenheimer also misses roughly and loudly on another front. Director Nolan has chosen to reproduce the quote from the Bhagavadgita in a way that the authors of American Prometheus would presumably find misleading, to put it mildly, and which many Hindus are said to be deeply offended by:

The quote we have heard repeatedly is: «Now I have become death, the destroyer of the world.” A catchy quote. But that's a quote from Lord's song, as in American Prometheus described by Oppenheimer as "the most beautiful philosophical song that exists, in any language". In Nolan's film, the quote is used in the middle of an intercourse between Oppenheimer and his then-girlfriend, aspiring psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, who forces him to read the passage with the quote while she rides his hot dog into the sky like a Belle Starr from the Wild West, and he , uh, stars above her firmament. (The Bhagavadgita quote can be heard in a beautiful rendering here ).

Nolan could have explored Oppenheimer's deeper inner life not only by contextualizing "the most beautiful philosophical song" and showing how it is relevant to the problem.

Moral rape with consent

Oppie was drawn to the Holy Trinity (he named his bomb project after it), and the Holy Sonnets – especially Batter My Heart, which I love. It is about the hopelessness of being a sinner and the need to be raptured and bodily possessed by the Lord—in short, it advocates consensual moral rape.

Nolan has none of this. IN American Prometheus we learn that Oppenheimer had also read TS Eliot's The wasteland. A short sequence in the film shows Oppie reading the book, but this is not given any further attention and becomes more like a gesture to the literati in the cinema audience, who might whisper "oh, so cool". Hell rather, the writers of American Prometheus even describes how Eliot, at Oppy's behest, came to Princeton, where he wrote The Cocktail Party ("the worst thing he ever wrote," opines Oppie in the book)—and avoided such faculty parties while at Princeton. Nothing. This will be too intellectual to explore. Welcome to messy democracy and its discontents.

Rather the documentary

A couple of weeks before the premiere of Oppenheimer another Oppenheimer film (a documentary) appeared on NBC: To End All War: Oppenheimer & The Atomic Bomb. Director Christopher Cassel's documentary has a Ken Burns feel without any manipulative soundtrack; and the "how did they manage to make the explosion without CGI" miracle moment; or Oppy's vulgar and loud sex with two women (as tragic as a molecule that fissions); or the courtship of most people with entertainment instead of facts.

Film That's it End All War# has a nice, compact story that unfolds over just 83 minutes, with everyone playing themselves. I would recommend the shorter documentary over the epic tragedy of the fall of the left.

Translated by Iril Kolle
Hawkins is an American expat freelancer based in Australia.
Regular contributor to CounterPunch, and now also MODERN TIMES.

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