8 agosto 2023
by Marco Patricelli

Fallout of a movie


Sixty years ago Jewish American physicist Julius Robert Oppenheimer was being rehabilitated by the United States, which was shaking off the dust of McCarthyism's shame, which had also polluted Hollywood with the blacklisting of artists and screenwriters accused of sympathizing with communism and thus hit with ostracism.

And it is now Hollywood, sixty years later, that pays tribute to the scientist who Time had featured on its cover with the caption "The father of the atomic bomb" and extolled as a national hero for helping to win the war against Japan and thus end World War II with the ominous shadow of the nuclear holocaust.

Christopher Nolan's film, starring an extraordinary Cillian Murphy, is a perfect box-office machine, built piece by piece on a solid foundation, starting with the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, published in 2005, and on a top-notch cast: Emily Blunt (wife Katherine "Kitty"), Matt Damon (Leslie Groves, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory), an admirable Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss, senior - and effectively aged - member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock, psychiatrist and Oppenheimer's mistress), Kenneth Branagh (Niels Bohr), Rami Malek (Oscar winner for impersonating Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody," now as David Hill), Casey Affleck (Boris Pash), Josh Hartnett (Ernest Lawrence), Benny Safdie (Edward Teller), Jason Clarke (Roger Robb), Tom Conti (Albert Einstein).

The screening on Italian big screens is scheduled for Aug. 23, but in Europe the production has landed on the oceanic wave of the more than $550 million so far grossed in the U.S., the unbridled enthusiasm of the star-studded critics (admirable reviews), positive feedback (since the world premiere in Paris on July 11) and some fierce criticism coming from India and the Middle East that has, however, played into the work's talk and attention.

It was all the fault, or all the credit, of the florid toplessness flaunted on a couch by Florence Pugh after a bedroom encounter that sparked censure and even accusations of blasphemy. But it was enough to save modesty - and those markets - a computer that drew a black opaque dress to make potable the sequence that, in spite of voyeurism aficionados, has nothing to arouse prudery, the Italian viewer being accustomed to more than that even within the walls of the home and at any hour on the small screen.

All the fault, or all the credit, of Florence Pugh's florid topless flaunted on a couch after a bedroom encounter, which triggered censure and even accusations of blasphemy

In the U.S., Nolan's film was rated "R" by the Motion Picture Association for scenes of nudity and vulgarity in language and banned for minors, and that ban won it another box office record. On another occasion, the script features an exhibited intimate encounter between Murphy and Pugh, with the screenwriters' invention during Oppenheimer's painful interrogation before the commission that would exonerate him for suspected communist sympathies. The Hindus then pointed the finger at the recitation of some verses attributed to the god Krishna from a holy book (Bhagavad Gita) while the two are making love. The passage, however, it should be noted, is strongly evocative: "I have become death, the destroyer of worlds."

Oppenheimer knew Sanskrit and knew the power derived from the creation and use of the atomic bomb that had incinerated and contaminated tens of thousands of Japanese. Not surprisingly, Haakon Chevalier wrote a book about him entitled "The Man Who Wanted to Make Himself God." Oppenheimer in fact delivered to the United States the ultimate weapon that President Truman would decide to drop on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki on August 9, breaking Japan for good and forcing it to surrender.

But the physicist who had won the race over the scientists in Hitler's service and outdistanced those under Stalin's orders in building a nuclear device understood that the world could be heading for catastrophe. An image repeatedly evoked in Nolan's film.

His contiguity to communist ideas and politically oriented characters, such as his wife, mistress, some friends and colleagues, as well as his coolness about the nuclear monopoly and the U.S. superpower role, marked his downfall and ouster. The film restores the historical, psychological and visual atmospheres of the era with a perfect blockbuster blend, which ironically crosses blades with a work totally at the antipodes, such as the light, cartoonish "Barbie."

Fine-grained special effects and computer graphics, albeit with insistent inserts, fine music by Ludwig Göransson though pervasive at times.

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