I grew up with the House Unamerican Activities Committee hearings, the Cold War, and the Doomsday Clock ticking toward midnight because of the bomb, which is why I decided I should see Oppenheimer.
I don’t always see movies based on recent history that I know well, because reviews and other information often give me a clue that the history is wildly inaccurate. For example, I have never seen Mississippi Burning, because I am damned sure that no FBI agent was ever a hero of the Civil Rights Movement.
While there was a lot of history related to the story that Oppenheimer left out, the stories it did tell were generally accurate, as far as my knowledge goes. And it certainly worked well as a movie; I was caught up in it from the beginning. I suspect a lot of its success is rooted in the acting of Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer.
I am glad I saw it, but my thoughts about it have more to do with how it reflected both the current times and the times of the story. Note that there are probably spoilers in here; I see no reason to avoid spoilers in the case of stories where everyone knows, or should know, what happened. There are no twists in this movie.
Oppenheimer is a movie about men. I would argue that the bomb, and even the Manhattan Project itself, is, for purposes of the movie, a McGuffin. It’s not what the men in this movie are doing that matters; it’s how they deal with each other.
On Facebook, I said this movie didn’t even come close to passing the Bechdel Test, which generated a lively discussion. While at least one person speculated the problem was a dearth of women working on the Manhattan Project, a Washington Post article this week points out that 11 percent of the staff were women, and many of those women were scientists. (free link.)
And I am sure that during Oppenheimer’s years in Berkeley he ran in circles that included more women than the ones he slept with.
It would have been possible to make a movie that included more women in significant roles, women who did in fact talk to each other, if the filmmakers had wanted to.
One of my Facebook friends opined that director Christopher Nolan is concerned with “Masculinity” (definitely with the capital M), which I think explains this movie very well. It may also explain why I found it very watchable even as I noted the absence of women and, for that matter, the absence of men who were not essentially European in heritage.
(Some of the men were Jewish, including Oppenheimer, and that is of course very relevant to a story from that particular point in history.)
That is, I looked at it as an analysis of how men in a patriarchal society behave toward other men. That aspect of masculinity did not come off particularly well.
I don’t know if that’s the movie Nolan intended to make, but that’s the one I saw. Continue reading “Reflections on Oppenheimer“…