Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” (July 21, Universal) is at war 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 other films don’t have: a screenplay written entirely in the first person.
Nolan revealed a Empire magazine who wrote the screenplay completely from the perspective of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy in the film in a role for which the “Batman Begins” actor struggled and pushed himself beyond his physical limits to to interpret.
“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 has ever done this before. But the point is, with the color sequences, which are the bulk of the film, everything is told from Oppenheimer’s point of view: you’re literally looking through his eyes.
Nolan said this strategy came “from the idea of how we get inside someone’s head and see how they’re visualizing this radical reinvention of physics. One of the things that cinema has historically struggled with is the depiction of intelligence or genius. Very often it fails to engage people.”
Nolan turned the finished script over 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 to get inside this guy’s head. We have to see the world the way he sees it, we have to see the atoms moving, we have to see the way he imagines energy waves, 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 it all in some way.
Nolan posed Jackson the ultimate challenge: “Let’s do all these things, but without computer graphics.”
The ‘Dunkirk’ director admitted that writing a script from a first person point of view is a ‘strange thing to do. But it reminded me of how to make the film. , this is the point of view of each scene.’ I really wanted to go through this story with Oppenheimer; I didn’t want to sit next to him and judge him. It felt like a futile exercise. It’s more of a documentary stuff, or political theory, or history of science. This is a story you live with him, you don’t judge him. You are faced with these irreconcilable ethical dilemmas with him.
“Oppenheimer,” which was shot entirely on large-format IMAX cameras, marks Nolan’s first R-rated film since 2002’s “Insomnia.” The film stock is 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.