It’d be unfair to say I was dragged kicking and screaming to Oppenheimer. But it would be fair to say it wasn’t high on my list of must-see movies. Having said that, there aren’t that many movies out at the moment that I do want to see. The school summer holidays have started, so most of the options are aimed at quite different age groups to mine.
Still, Oppenheimer. Why wouldn’t I be interested? Christopher Nolan was at the helm, the cast was impressive, and the subject matter had changed history – what’s not to like?
Well, most of that, in all honesty. From a personal perspective, anyway. For reasons that won’t interest you, life has had some challenges in recent times. Nothing life-threatening – so far, at least – but it hasn’t held as much fun as I’m used to. Spoiled brat that I am. With that in mind, my idea of a trip to the cinema involved fun and escapism. Watching a movie about the creation of the atom bomb didn’t quite tick the box. At the same time, there was the three hour running time to be potentially drag out the grim subject matter. I wasn’t sold on the idea.
As for Christopher Nolan, I do get that he is something of a visionary when it comes to movie-making. But I’ve read the praise heaped on some of his films and wondered if I’ve been watching something else. It’s too much of a stretch to say it’s like the emperor’s new clothes, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes if there are people out there who are just so confused by what they’ve seen that they think it must be great.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed Christopher Nolan films. Just not all of them, and with some I’ve come away wondering what the hell just went on. Maybe I like my stories to be told in a simpler way.
All that aside, I’m not a fan of biopics or ‘true life’ dramatisations, and there are a few reasons why:
- They’re inaccurate. Not in every sense, and not always deliberately. But, by default, they have to be. Only the individuals there at the time have the full experience of what was said or done, and even they will often have false memories. So the story told is inevitably an interpretation rather than the truth.
- No one can really know what was in a person’s mind when they said or did anything. We get enough people making assumptions in real life, often with no thought or consideration about the impact of their assumptions on the people in question. Doing this in a movie which is going to be seen by millions of people just ramps the damage up to a much higher level.
- In some cases, such dramatisations are about people who are still alive. To me, these are particularly disturbing because the interpretations of the writer, director or actor can affect how other people view you – and sometimes those interpretations don’t show you in the best light even if only for dramatic effect. Even in the case of Oppenheimer, although the main characters are no longer with us, their children are, as are those of other people depicted in the film. Is that fair on them?
- There will be people who watch these films and TV series and (just as they believe everything they read on social media) will accept the screenwriter’s interpretation as fact. Which can create a myth that becomes accepted as truth.
I will concede that my views are very preachy and, undoubtedly, an exaggerated response to the subject. Inevitably, there’ll be others with completely opposing views. My aim here is really to highlight why I wouldn’t be clamouring to see Oppenheimer.
Having started out negatively, I would like to redress the balance. I can’t, for example, really criticise Christopher Nolan for making long films. I’ve been known to write quite long books – although the finished products have generally been a lot shorter than the earlier drafts. And, although not fast-paced like Dead Reckoning, it didn’t drag. So the three hours only felt like two and a half…
Did I enjoy it in the end? The subject matter didn’t really lend itself to enjoyment, but it was a good film. Nolan did some tricky stuff with images supposed to represent something or other (obviously, I was heavily into it…), and he played with different time lines which helped to build up the drama. The cast all played their parts well. Matthew Modine looked older than I remembered – until I remembered that I hadn’t seen him in anything for about twenty years. Robert Downey Jr was barely recognisable, which was a credit to the make-up artists, but also to his acting. And Tom Conti’s Einstein ticked all the boxes – whether you believe those conversations took place or not.
Oppenheimer is being hailed as the big movie of the summer. I can see why, and I think curiosity would’ve eventually got me to watch it, though probably on the small screen. The imagery does lend itself to the big screen, but there are films that focus on the story rather than the spectacle and, for me, this fell into that category. Frankly, I’d rather have watched Dead Reckoning again if I was going to the cinema. Even so, I’m not disappointed I saw it, and I know a lot of cinema-goers will marvel at it. I just hope they remember that, although it’s based on fact, not every bit of it is true.