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Arts Express

Wed, Nov 29, 2023 9:00 PM



Oppenheimer Review: Nuclear Spectator Sports, Original Sin, Bombs And Bombshells...

A movie that might have been otherwise titled 'Fatman: The Dark Knight Rises'  - considering British director Christopher Nolan's claim to fame specializing in comic book superhero blockbusters, the least of dubious celebratory proclamations of the film was plenty of preview studio publicity announcing in effect an industrial light and magic show, bells and whistles galore to behold. Not unlike, ironically, the actual spectator sport on and originally off screen, of Oppenheimer and company's original dress rehearsal detonation in the desert, in goggles and gaping with glee. 

 A theoretical physicist and director of the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II, a secret installation who mission was to develop and build the first nuclear weapons - and hence often called the 'father of the atomic bomb,' J. Robert Oppenheimer is the subject of the bloated three hour biopic Oppenheimer, currently predicted to grab assorted Oscars this year. While this analysis essentially explores the staggering contradictions of the existence itself of this production - and as a side note a film that saw the entire cast and crew walking out of the London premiere in support of the Hollywood strikes - yet had no effect on the massive publicity extravaganza celebrating the theatrical release.

And on the political front, Oppenheimer who seemed to dabble in communism as a hobby, also named names under McCarthyism. Watta guy to memorialize in a movie. Then again, Hollywood would have no qualms about that, destroying so many lives and precipitating suicides under the Blacklist themselves. But at the same time, a film teeming with metaphorical possibilities, whether intentional or not. For instance, early on a scene with Oppenheimer as a student, injecting an apple on his despised science teacher's desk, with a smuggled toxic lab chemical there. 

And in that sense, giving rise to theatrical intimations of the biblical Genesis - with Oppenheimer as simultaneously Original sins combo serpent and the first man - in this case banished from the Garden Of Eden whether as creator of the first bomb potentially obliterating humankind, or the destruction of the hope of Eden, hypothetically the rise of socialism back then, a potential utopia he contributed to destroying by naming names - or perhaps both. And speaking of which, a distracting and exhausting focus on the anti-communist McCarthy Hearings, seemingly in excruciating real time for a huge portion of the proceedings that could have benefited enormously from cutting room floor considerations - while somehow giving rise to a dubious new genre, C-Span Cinema. Never has the Red Scare come off as this exceedingly dull. 

And though the production would seem to take the moral high road in denouncing nuclear war, NBC/Universal Pictures has been a subsidiary of General Electric  - a major Pentagon linked military contractor and weapons manufacturer of for instance, Tomahawk and Patriot II missiles implemented in US wars against the planet today. Which places Oppenheimer's regret linking him to the creation of atomic weapons, while in real life promoting less 'apocalyptic' small bombs instead - an ironic covert weaonry manufacturing ad footnote to precisely what General Electric incessantly produces whether propaganda or portfolio investment - not to mention violence steeped Hollywood production contracts lined with Pentagon money and script approval as well - and indeed infinitely more profitable in the 'size matters' department than the financially stagnant supply of nuclear bombs perpetually housed in their silos.  

On the other hand, what would a biopic about a flawed formidable man be, without bad mothers like his wife, the usual historical witch personas, and in this case, femme fatales. In a nutshell, Oppenheimer in the real world visited his old lover on the sly, depicted during much promoted online nude romp scenes, away from his wife. Who in turn left her husband for Oppenheimer, divorcing her spouse after Oppenheimer knocks her up. And, Oppenheimer's bad behavior culminating in lover number one's suicide. But never mind, this movie is presumably all about Oppenheimer's bombs, with bombshells secondary.

While on a side note, the stunning absence of what really went down then during World War II - and in contrast to all the scientific and political hand wringing about Germany potentially acquiring the bomb in this film - the reality that Western Europe, including Nolan's elephant in the room Britain, extremely pleased with Hitler attacking and hopefully destroying the Soviet Union and communism - until they themselves were attacked by Germany. Along with the buried shame of Operation Paperclip, a secret US intelligence program in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were taken from the former Nazi Germany to this country for government employment after the end of World War II - between 1945 and 1959. Along with leading to that fateful atomic bombing of Japan even though they had signalled their surrender -  leading up to the shameless 78th commemoration of the atomic bombings of Japan this year, without mention of the United States at all as the perpetrator. Rather, an irrelevant retro-Red Scare ceremonial denunciation of Russia instead,

 And ironically, Oppenheimer himself who relished playing it both ways - basking in the glory of his atomic claim to fame while denouncing the bomb, naming names of presumed political comrades, and concealing his women from one another, - could very likely as an alleged communist have denounced the film released during the Hollywood strikes - while simultaneously basking in the attention the film has bestowed upon him.

Oppenheimer: Dr. Strangelust - Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Hollywood.

Prairie Miller 



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