Film School: Oppenheimer (2023)

Oppenheimer (2023) Oppenheimer (2023)

The white saviour and failed representation.

“We’re glorifying one white man and ignoring all the victims. Children are still suffering. It’s alive now. It is not in the past.”Pam Kingfisher (via AJ+).

In response to a movie with the whitest cast to ever white cast

The cast of 'Oppenheimer' (2023)
The cast of Oppenheimer (2023)

… many have drawn attention to the lack of representation of other groups and minorities people directly affected by the historical events referenced and portrayed – specifically, Japanese civilians killed by the bombs, Hispanic people displaced by the Los Alamos test site, and Indigenous “downwinders” from the Hanford bomb factory, who still literally feel their effects today. The first two are from longer threads worth reading:

Read the full unrolled thread from Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, M.S., which ends with this:

It’s a testament to Christopher Nolan‘s film-making that there seems to be only consensus about the supreme technical craft presented to our eyes and ears (particularly his richly-developing collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema), and the myriad outstanding performers (even if there simply isn’t time or space to utilise them all to their full potential). Despite its considerable run time, Oppenheimer‘s three hours of propulsive cross-cutting devotes not even seconds, not even to mere cutaways, to non-white faces. The film even includes a scene about exactly that which pointedly never cuts away from the protagonist’s reaction to seeing images it refuses to show:

This might be a tasteful decision – until it isn’t. If that seems unfairly critical of a film already handling a difficult topic, we already have an example of a film, from the same year, which solved the problem of how to portray atrocities without actually showing them, to inspired and devastating effect: The Zone of Interest. Perhaps the single most irresponsible film-making choice in Oppenheimer and its literal focus on the bad conscience of “the father of the atomic bomb” is when the culmination of his trial invokes the aesthetics of nuclear incineration:

the film’s ultimate statement is that Oppenheimer’s own personal Hiroshima was a man yelling at him.

Further Viewing

Oppenheimer Is a Mind-Blower, but How Is It as History?‘ asks Slate.

“People head to their local IMAX in order to experience what it’s like being inside the flames of bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however Nolan never puts his audiences in the shoes of those who suffered the most.” Victor Fraga charges Oppenheimer, and Nolan, with whitewashing the miscreant (via DMovies).

“Hot Dog”: Vox‘s rundown of the life of Oppenheimer sounds like a far more interesting plot (and of his brother Frank’s an actual, y’know, sub-plot) about obscene privilege and even more obscene power. One is left to wonder what Scorsese might have done with it…

“When you’ve played a meaningful part in bringing about the death of over 100,000 people… you naturally don’t think of that with ease” – Robert Oppenheimer in 1965 on if the bomb was necessary (via CBS News):

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