"The film presents Oppenheimer's experience subjectively," the director explained in a new interview.
Christopher Nolan is riding high. As Oppenheimer's worldwide box office gross approaches $1 billion — a staggering total that few could have predicted half a year ago — the director is taking a victory lap in a new cover story for Variety.
As part of the extensive new interview with journalist Brent Lang, Nolan addressed one of the biggest criticisms of his latest film: That it does not depict the horror unleashed on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when J. Robert Oppenheimer's bombs were dropped on them. Spike Lee, to name one critic, has said, "If it's three hours, I would like to add some more minutes about what happened to the Japanese people. People got vaporized. Many years later, people are radioactive."
The closest Oppenheimer gets to showing Hiroshima is the scene where Cillian Murphy's titular physicist watches a slideshow presentation of the casualties — and the character's resulting nightmares about similar things happening to people he knows (one of whom is played by Nolan's own daughter). According to Nolan, that subjectivity is the point.
"The film presents Oppenheimer's experience subjectively," Nolan said. "It was always my intention to rigidly stick to that. Oppenheimer heard about the bombing at the same time that the rest of the world did. I wanted to show somebody who is starting to gain a clearer picture of the unintended consequences of his actions. It was as much about what I don't show as what I show."
After all, the movie is split into two interlocking sections: The scenes in color are depicted from Oppenheimer's point of view (and the screenplay was even written in first person), while the black-and-white scenes focus more on the physicist's political rival Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.).
The success of Oppenheimer (whose worldwide grosses have topped every comic-book movie this year) seems to bode a different future for Hollywood than the past decade's focus on well-known franchises. But Hollywood's future remains an open question with the actors' strike still ongoing. Nolan blames the shift to streaming, which he previously criticized in 2020.
"Part of the craziness with the labor negotiations this summer has been the studios sitting there and going, 'Well, we can't pay you because we don't have enough money,'" Nolan says. "To which the answer is 'Well, you don't have enough money because you're not managing your business correctly. You're not getting the same amount of money for your product that you were before.' The shift to streaming has disrupted the entire industry and created problems for everybody."
Read the full interview at Variety, and look for Oppenheimer's home media release on Nov. 21.
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