By Carter James
As much as I love movies, and I love going to the movies, I only ever see a movie twice in theaters. That’s only if I’m dying to see it again. With “Oppenheimer”, I saw it four times.
There’s a reason I kept going back. Thursday, July 20, was the first time I saw it. Packed in an IMAX theater on opening night and probably the youngest one there, I was beyond excited. The whole experience left me with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” levels of elation.
It wasn’t my usual good time at the movies, or even how I feel after watching a masterpiece. It was history. It was a significant moment in time, and yet another cornerstone of American pop culture that I had lived through; A feeling that I can still feel today. The best part was that I would be seeing it again the next day.
This was incredibly new for me, because I never rewatch a movie in such a short time period. Even “The Batman” had a whole day of rest before I ran back to the theater to see it. Where concerns of fatigue would’ve usually gone off in my head, I was gnawing to get back. I wasn’t finished. The first viewing was too overwhelming. I needed it again.
Seeing a movie projected on film was a huge goal of mine, and luckily, the same theater I went to was also showing “Oppenheimer” in 70mm. Not IMAX 70mm, as some may think, but the classic film format.
That 70mm showing was quite a treat. Seeing the flicker of the screen, the cigarette burns and the humming of the projector was a true novelty. Vindication is the only word I can use to describe this rewatch. I knew I had loved the film, but now I could confirm that the movie was a clear-cut masterpiece. That same overbearing feeling was on me once the credits started to roll. There was no doubt in my mind that this film was truly special.
Of course, I was not done. It cannot be understated how much of an experience “Oppenheimer” in IMAX is. You haven’t watched the film yet until that screen towers over you and the subwoofers assault all of your senses. I didn’t want my last theatrical feeling to be in 70mm. I knew I needed it again.
A good ten days have passed, and the initial rush has mostly passed, too. I sit down with my obnoxious amount of popcorn and large drink, and the feeling comes back. Now, I’m ready to absorb as much as possible, and let it all wave over me.
This rewatch was like seeing it in IMAX for the first time again. You truly don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone. Once the speakers started to shake the entire auditorium, I knew that the film was only ever meant for this format.
Seeing the same movie three times in theaters was already a new record for me. Why a fourth time? Because I needed to catch it one more time before it was gone for good. If it were up to me, films like “Blue Beetle” and “Gran Turismo” would be forced to share times with “Oppenheimer” in IMAX because the people yearn for this experience. It’s evident in the box office and the critical reception.
I already had this film constantly stuck in my head before my fourth viewing. Now, it’s like the film is home to me. The tiniest of moments now hold immense value.
Sure, the Trinity Test is amazing, as well as the monologues and hearings, but now even the most minute character moments are memorable.
What does seeing “Oppenheimer” four times do to you? It gives you too many reasons to love it. It’s no secret that Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors. I know his style like the back of my hand. The way he structures narrative, his editing choices, similarities in characters and even the evolution of his overall style are all things I can describe to you ad nauseum. The fascinating thing about “Oppenheimer,” however, is how he uses that style to show a completely different side of himself.
Besides the film being about J. Robert Oppenheimer’s spearheading of the Manhattan Project, the film is a summation of his life in relation to what led to the project, and the personal and political fallout that followed.
This is not your typical biopic or WWII film, but a courtroom drama that is constantly jumping between three timelines to paint a complex picture about a complex figure.
The first act is about Oppenheimer’s past and associations to grasp the extent of his genius and interpersonal troubles. The second act is all about the atomic bomb and how his willingness to make a world-altering breakthrough quickly led to his personal damnation and public condemnation thereafter.
With the third act, however, the film goes full legal drama, dealing with the fallout of his creation and the McCarthy era witch hunt that became an indictment on all fronts of his life.
Crossing parallel with Oppenheimer’s hearings is the story of how Admiral Lewis Strauss was involved with Oppenheimer’s post-war political dealings and eventual downfall. Strauss, played stunningly by Robert Downey Jr., is a jealous and volatile antagonist that bridges the gaps in Oppenheimer’s downfall, as he’s in question of said affairs before being appointed to the presidential cabinet.
Though pieces are constantly moving, the film is still foremost a character study, teeming with depth. No scene is wasted because the character of Oppenheimer constantly develops and unravels as we understand the complex and tortuous world that he made for himself. Cillian Murphy’s brilliance in the titular role goes without saying, as he affects you through the smallest of gestures. Every look means something, and every line reveals all.
The whole cast is putting out career-best performances. They’re all insanely phenomenal and somehow leave an effect on you, even when Oppenheimer is the most important person in and outside of the room. The MVP of the movie is undoubtedly Emily Blunt. She commands every scene she’s in as Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty, even when she’s at her lowest moments.
Obviously, the story is great. The character work is rich. Nolan directs like he never has before. Everything else though, is where the magic really starts to show. For a film to be three hours long, to have multiple timelines and a decades’ long chronology, amazing directing alone won’t cut it. Where the phenomenal performances and masterful direction hook you, the technical aspects such as writing and editing keep you dialed in.
This is easily Nolan’s best-written film. I can’t wrap my head around writing in first-person, but, man, does it work well. The editing is also crucial in how well this film flows. Not a second drags, but rather it goes like a bullet train. A ton of information is thrown at you, but you are never lost.
The sound and cinematography could have their own articles adjacent to the other aspects that I’ve mentioned. Hoyte Van Hoytema is one of the best cinematographers working today. I want to scrub through every second of this film to figure out the methodology behind the camera movements, shot composition and how a scene is lit.
Sound. I hope everyone that was involved with the sound design and mixing has the best vacation ever, because they outdid themselves. Yes, the film is loud, but the absence of sound also evokes incredible impact.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the musical score. I have been listening to it nonstop. How couldn’t I? I listen to film scores on a daily basis. This score is unforgettable and unmissable in the theater. Ludwig Goransson is my favorite composer. He’s insane. The way he uses strings and still implements electronic music into the score is felt in my core. “Fission,” “Can You Hear the Music,” “Fusion” and “Trinity” are my favorite tracks, and will probably be my most listened songs on Spotify this year.
“Oppenheimer” is already one of the best films of the decade, and, honestly, a rewatch away from becoming my favorite of the decade. I don’t see anything reasonably topping this film for me in the next seven years. To call it a blockbuster would be an insult. To call it an event would be an understatement. This is a tried-and-true classic, an epic we haven’t seen the likes of in decades. Every viewing gave me more appreciation for and further vindication of how excellent and important of a piece of cinema this is. Trust me when I say that if given the chance to see it a fifth time in theaters, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. This is my favorite film of the year, if you already couldn’t tell.