An Upcoming Film on J. Robert Oppenheimer: Director Christopher Nolan’s Next Enigma

Christopher Nolan’s first-ever biopic centers on the ‘Father of the Atomic Bomb.’


Image courtesy of US Govt. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Here are Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer in a photograph taken at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Critically acclaimed director Christopher Nolan is trying an alternative hand in the art of movie making with his upcoming biopic ‘Oppenheimer,’ starring Cillian Murphy and a plethora of other big-name actors and actresses. Nolan is best known for his work on some of the most genre-defining films of all time, including ‘Interstellar’ and ‘The Dark Knight.’ 

Nolan is generally known for his uniquely practical and gritty styles of cinematography and direction. A film that centers around the man who split the atom, and changed warfare as we know it would be right up his alley. 

Christopher Nolan is not the only big sell for this ambitious project. The role of J. Robert Oppenheimer is played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who is best known for his portrayal of Thomas Shelby in ‘Peaky Blinders.’ This isn’t Murphy’s first project with Nolan; he also played Scarecrow in ‘Batman Begins.’ 

Cillian Murphy began his acting career on the stage, with his professional debut in September 1996 in the play ‘Disco Pigs.’ From the leader of one of the most prolific criminal mobs in British history to a mad scientist who uses toxins to play with the minds of his victims, Cillian Murphy has proven time and time again that he has remarkable range as an actor in the industry. His portrayal of one of the most renowned and simultaneously controversial scientists in human history could be a career-defining role. 

The fascinating aspect of this particular film is that the story is essentially already written. Nolan is simply crafting a reenactment of various historical events, dramatized by world-renowned actors and filmmakers. 

However, the real-world story is not exactly an idealistic tale that was waiting to be picked up by Hollywood executives. The events of World War II and the devastating final blow that changed our perception of human behavior and the future of war are already gruesome. However, they’re equally important to retell for generations to come. That is exactly what this film sets out to do. 

Before audiences can even begin to clamor into their seats with anticipation for Nolan’s next project, they have to know exactly what it is they’re signing up for. Who was J. Robert Oppenheimer? Why would Christopher Nolan choose to center an entire film around one perplexing event in American history? 

Throughout World War II, there was a secret operation underway to create the first atomic weapon.  “The Manhattan Project” involved thousands of incredibly intelligent physicists, mathematicians, and chemists, charging them with the responsibility of creating the world’s first tool for nuclear annihilation.  Some of the scientists that the government employed for this project went on to be celebrated for their contributions to the world of physics and nuclear technology. These include Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi, who worked to create the world’s first Nuclear Reactor. While the legacies of scientists creating such a tool seem to have been solidified in history for their benefit to humanity, one name seems to only have been enveloped in total infamy. 

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was the man put in charge of the Manhattan Project. His previous work as a physicist was very well recognized by the federal government, and so it was only natural that he would be selected for such a seemingly prosperous position. He was already a well-known professor of theoretical physics prior to The Manhattan Project, and his prominence in the field is what drew the attention of the United States government. The government was already incredibly suspicious of the possibility of nuclear weapons within Germany and Europe, shortly before the construction of the Los Alamos Laboratory, where the work of Oppenheimer and his A-Team was to be conducted. 

After three years of careful research, construction, and enough testing to decimate thousands of acres of desert land, the bombs were dropped. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were reduced to rubble, and tens of thousands of civilians were left for dead. The whole world looked on, in utter horror. 

Oppenheimer and his team were never informed when or even if their nuclear weapons would be utilized for war. They were simply given a set task and all the resources they could possibly need. After learning about the truths of their creation, many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan project pushed back against the United States government and were vocal about their opposition to nuclear warfare. But in the center of the fallout, after the dust had settled, stood Oppenheimer, the mastermind behind one of the worst atrocities in human history.

In one of his most famous interviews, Oppenheimer said, “I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'” Prior to this quote, Oppenheimer discusses the multitude of reactions when the world had seen the pinnacle of human violence as the result of his and his team’s actions. He lived the rest of his life surrounded by dissensions and was described as a man who was physically and mentally overcome with an indescribable aura of sorrow. He was later accused of being a communist by the United States government, due to his opposition to the construction of the hydrogen bomb as well as his alleged ties with the Soviet Union. He would later pass away of pharyngeal cancer on February 18th, 1967, during the peak of the Cold War. 

The story of J. Robert Oppenheimer is one filled with tragedy, regret, and betrayal by those who were meant to serve as beacons of hope for the rest of the world. Now, how would Christopher Nolan depict such a story through his abstract and unconventional styles of filmmaking? 

Will this movie be a complicated series of cinematography tricks like Nolan’s ‘Tenet,’ or will it be a much more conventional yet equivalently stylistic war piece such as ‘Dunkirk,’ another Nolan film?

Ultimately, it will be the performances and dedication of Christopher Nolan’s team that create a film that properly pays homage to one of the most contentious scientists to ever live. There is no doubt that Cillian Murphy will deliver in his lead role as J. Robert Oppenheimer. The rest of the cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Florence Pugh, and Emily Blunt who are only a fraction of the big-name stars who you’ll be able to see on the big screen when Oppenheimer is exclusively released in theaters on July 21st, 2023.

“I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,'” said J. Robert Oppenheimer.