The Oppenheimer bomb – Le Devoir

The “Oppenheimer” bomb – Le Devoir

It's a rich year for cinema that is coming to an end. In this regard, one of the event films of 2023 was undoubtedly Oppenheimer (VF) by Christopher Nolan, which will soon exceed the billion US dollar mark at the global box office. However, we expected a less explosive success from the biography of the “father of the atomic bomb”, a dark subject in general. To see the film projected in IMAX 70mm format, thousands of cinemagoers had to travel hundreds of kilometers: a phenomenon. Better yet, at the end of a major online poll conducted by the website Rotten Tomatoes, Nolan was named the best filmmaker of the last 25 years. A few weeks after Oppenheimer's Blu-rays and 4Ks sold out upon release, the filmmaker returns to his cinematic bombshell.

“My interest in quantum physics came from meeting Nobel Prize winner Kip Thorne, who worked on my films Interstellar [Interstellaire] and principle. “So I was predisposed to be interested in nuclear physics,” admits Christopher Nolan during a virtual conference that Le Devoir was able to attend.

Stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Robert Downey Jr. were also involved, as was producer Emma Thomas (who is town couple with the filmmaker). So many comments have been collected, making a great end of year gift for moviegoers.

The film is based on American Prometheus, a biography by J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), written by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

In fact, Emma Thomas initially had doubts about the feasibility of the film.

“When I started reading this huge book, my first thought was how Chris could turn it into a great, entertaining film,” she says.

However, confusion quickly gave way to excitement.

“The advantage of such an adaptation is that Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's work is 700 pages long,” notes Christopher Nolan. Martin in particular has conducted research for 25 years. So I benefited from all this incredible data, from all these anecdotes from people who were there at the time… Even though it wasn't necessarily clear when I read the book that it had cinematic potential for me if I stuck with it to the key moments of life [d’Oppenheimer], which really moved me, I knew I had an incredible resource to draw on. »

Increased rigor

Which doesn't mean that the director and screenwriter limited themselves to the content of the biography. For example, he traveled to Washington to view the extensive documentation of the United States Atomic Energy Commission hearings that Oppenheimer attended, as well as the security approach developed by Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) against Oppenheimer.

“I was able to consult the Senate archives and read the transcripts of the security hearings: 1,000 pages,” specifies the filmmaker. I worked from all of this. Broadly speaking, my process was to take notes based on my readings – book and transcriptions – as well as what I would tell people about this story if I tried to tell it to them at a dinner party. »

This is supposed to make everything digestible. The idea wasn't to turn viewers into qualified quantum physicists, says Christopher Nolan.

“So I was able to figure out what things I really needed to stay true to, what key elements moved me… Then I could start developing a structural approach. »

Here the filmmaker adds that he was fascinated by the fact that what he calls a “major paradigm shift” in scientific and human thought was taking place at this time, following the development of the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein (Tom Conti).

“I wanted us to feel how radical this change was and how powerful the change in thinking was,” he summarizes.

Even in the writing phase, Nolan decided to include as many secondary and tertiary characters as necessary.

“I decided not to create composite characters. I told my sales manager that we needed unique faces and unique energies for all of these little scores. The diversity of people involved in the Manhattan Project is one of the aspects I found most interesting about this story. »

The weight of history

Logistically, the film required a lot of ingenuity because, although the funds available for production were significant, they fell short of Christopher Nolan's ambitions. Emma Thomas explains: “It was a challenge because we really wanted to release the film in the summer and reach as wide an audience as possible… while also knowing that it was a big concept film, three hours long and rated. “R [les personnes mineures doivent être accompagnées d’un adulte]. For these reasons we were not able to spend as much money as we would have liked. Hence, for example, a daring filming plan. »

As a reminder, Oppenheimer's budget was $100 million. For comparison: Tenet cost twice as much (and brought in a third of the revenue).

The interpreters hardly felt these constraints and only spoke words of thanks to their builder.

“I said yes before I even read the script,” admits Cillian Murphy, who met the director for the fourth time.

“Afterwards I realized it was huge. I understood the importance [du film] from the perspective of humanity and history. It's not often in a career that you're offered a role like this. […] It was an immense responsibility to embody this character, this icon who changed the world. But I knew that with Chris at the helm I was in the best hands imaginable. »

With the role of Katherine Oppenheimer, the protagonist's unpredictable wife, Emily Blunt was aware of inheriting a complex score.

“She had admirable qualities, despite her increasing dependence on alcohol. She was a stabilizing force for Oppenheimer, with her openness that could anger people. I'm always very curious about the lives of people who seem unpleasant. I wonder why they are like that […] Kitty had a flair for spectacle and knew the effect it created. I modeled her voice after a brilliant actress from the 1930s and 1940s who then let herself go and became this really fantastic old lady who drank a lot. »

Robert Downey Jr. wondered what would have happened if
Lewis Strauss and J. Robert Oppenheimer had an agreement.

“What would have happened if Oppenheimer and Strauss hadn’t had this bitterness and could work together? But when it came to my character, the “bad guy,” there was, for lack of a better word, a lot to draw inspiration from. »

Vibrate in the present

As mentioned at the outset, the extent of Oppenheimer's success exceeded industry forecasts. Fast
Captured by the vision of her creative partner and husband Emma Thomas, she wasn't that surprised: “I think when he told me what he was going to do at the end with that last answer, I knew it would work.” to today's audience, that it would resonate in the present. »

She was right, a billion times right.

The Oppenheimer film is available on VOD on all platforms.

To watch in the video