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Oppenheimer: What Christopher Nolan Has To Say About It



  • “If movies are a sort of collective dream, there’s a sense in which Oppenheimer’s a collective nightmare. Of all of the subject matter I’ve dealt with, it’s certainly the darkest.”
  • “At the heart of the film, there’s a pivot, and it’s really the pivot between the successful Trinity test and then the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the actual use of the weapon. Whether we like it or not, we live in Oppenheimer’s world, and we always will.”

“Whether we like it or not, we live in Oppenheimer’s world, and we always will.

Christopher Nolan
1958. American physicist J. Robert OPPENHEIMER.
  • “I know of no more dramatic tale with higher stakes. Like it or not, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the most important person who ever lived. He made the world that we live in for better or for worse. His story has to be seen to be believed.”

2023. Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s new film. Universal Pictures


  • “When I’m writing I try to be disciplined and not write with actors in mind because it’s limiting. If you’re writing from things you’ve seen them do before, you’re not going to challenge them fully on the page. Particularly dealing with a real-life figure, I’m trying to write the real-life Oppenheimer. Then when you finish, you know, I’m sitting there, looking at the copy of ‘American Prometheus’– the book I’m adapting – and there’s this picture of the real-life Oppenheimer with his intense blue-eyed stare looking out at me as it had been for months and suddenly, I’m like, OK, I know who can do that. And I’ve worked with Cillian for 20 years. I know he’s one of the great actors, but I’ve never worked with him as a leading man. So this time, I got to pick up the phone and say, OK, this is the one. This is the one where you take the center stage. And not just that but I’ve written the script in the first person. You’re going to have to take the audience with you. We’re going to see everything through your eyes.


  • “A lot of the researchers in AI talk about this as their Oppenheimer moment. They’re looking at his story and sort of saying, ‘OK, what are the responsibilities of a researcher or a scientist bringing something into the world that may have unintended consequences?’”
  • “They knew the theory [of nuclear fallout] and they knew the possibilities to some degree. But as with so much in science, the real knowledge comes from experimentation. This is the nature of science, is it moves forward, continually correcting itself. Science is not a process whereby you are able to sit down and perfectly map everything out in theoretical terms, and then that just becomes the future. It has to interact with the real world — and to a certain extent our film is about the consequences of that.”

Christopher Nolan on Oppenheimer, AI, and the Future


  • “One of the first people I showed the script to when I finished it was my visual effects supervisor, Andrew Jackson, and I showed it to him right away because I said to him, ‘We have to get the Trinity test across. We also have to try and give some insights into the way Oppenheimer would have visualized molecular interactions and how that builds to its ultimate expression in the Trinity test. But I want to do it without computer graphics.’ And the thing with CG, even though it’s very versatile, as animation, it tends to feel a bit safe, a bit anodyne. And it was very important to me that firstly, the atomic interactions that Oppenheimer’s visualizing, but then, ultimately, the power of the device they build itself — the ‘gadget,’ as they called it — that they detonated at Trinity, you wanted it to be the most beautiful and most terrifying thing simultaneously.”

The ‘Oppenheimer’ Cast on Filming the Trinity Test


  • “In a funny sort of way, my approach is to not even acknowledge biopic as a genre. In other words, if something works, like Lawrence of Arabia, for example, you don’t think of it as a biopic. You think of it as a great adventure story, even though obviously it’s telling the story of somebody’s life. Or Citizen Kane … I mean, obviously that’s fiction. But for me, I had the benefit of this extraordinary book [written by Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird], American Prometheus, that … won the Pulitzer Prize. I had this extraordinary sort of bible to work from. And so for me, it was really a process of saying, ‘OK, what’s the exciting story that develops, the cinematic story that develops from a reading of it, from several readings of it?’ And then [I] started to develop a structure for how I might be able to put the audience into Oppenheimer’s head.”


  • “I’ve used IMAX for years and going into Oppenheimer, talking to [Hoyte van] Hoytema, my [director of photography], we knew that it would give us with its high resolution, its sort of extraordinary analog color sharpness … the big screens that you projected on, we knew it would give us the landscapes of New Mexico, that it would give us the Trinity test, which we felt had to be a showstopper. But we actually got really excited about the idea of the human face. How can you help us jump into Oppenheimer’s head? The story is told subjectively. I even wrote the script in the first person — ‘I’ this, ‘I’ that. We were looking for the visual equivalent of that. And so taking those high-resolution IMAX cameras and really just trying to be there for the intimate moments of the story in a way that we felt we hadn’t really seen people do before with that format. That was a source of particular excitement for us.”

Gross, T. (2023). ‘Like it or not, we live in Oppenheimer’s world,’ says director Christopher Nolan. NPR.

Shanfeld, E. (2023). ‘Inside the ‘Oppenheimer’ Imax 70mm Craze: Fans Crossing State Lines, the Search for New Projectors and More. Variety.

McPherson, C. (2023). ‘Oppenheimer’ Poised to Become Highest-Grossing Movie in Domestic History to Never Top Box Office. Collider.

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