Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” (July 21, Universal) is warring it out with the likes of “Barbie” (Warner Bros.) and “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount) at this year’s summer box office. But according to the Oscar-nominated director, his three-hour epic about the invention of the atomic bomb offers something those other films don’t: a script written entirely in the first person.
Nolan revealed to Empire magazine that he wrote the screenplay completely from the point of view of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy in the film in a role the “Batman Begins” actor fought for and stretched his physical limits to portray.
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“I actually wrote in the first-person, which I’ve never done before,” Nolan said of his film about the leader of the Manhattan Project. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever done it before. But the point of it is, with the colour sequences, which is the bulk of the film, everything is told from Oppenheimer’s point of view — you’re literally kind of looking through his eyes.”
Nolan said this strategy was born from “the idea of how we get in somebody’s head and see how they were visualizing this radical reinvention of physics. One of the things that cinema has struggled with historically is the representation of intelligence or genius. It very often fails to engage people.”
Nolan gave the finished script to his visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson, the Oscar winner for “Tenet” who helped Nolan recreate an atomic bomb explosion without CGI.
“We have to find a way into this guy’s head. We’ve gotta see the world the way he sees it, we’ve gotta see the atoms moving, we’ve gotta see the way he’s imagining waves of energy, the quantum world,” he told Jackson. “And then we have to see how that translates into the Trinity test. And we have to feel the danger, feel the threat of all this somehow.”
Nolan posed to Jackson the ultimate challenge: “Let’s do all these things, but without any computer graphics.”
The “Dunkirk” filmmaker admitted that writing a script from a first-person point of view is an “odd thing to do. But it was a reminder to me of how to shoot the film. It was a reminder to everybody involved in the project, ‘Okay, this is the point of view of every scene.’ I wanted to really go through this story with Oppenheimer; I didn’t want to sit by him and judge him. That seemed a pointless exercise. That’s more the stuff of documentary, or political theory, or history of science. This is a story that you experience with him — you don’t judge him. You are faced with these irreconcilable ethical dilemmas with him.”
“Oppenheimer,” which was shot entirely on IMAX large-format cameras, marks Nolan’s first R-rated movie since 2002’s “Insomnia.” The film stock runs 11 miles long and weighs a whopping 600 pounds. “Oppenheimer” is currently set to take over IMAX screens beginning July 20 for a three-week run in North America.
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