Christopher Nolan‘s “Oppenheimer” turned the tortured life of J. Robert Oppenheimer into a bona fide summer blockbuster by treating the physicist’s inner musings as a canvas for an epic. But despite devoting three hours of runtime to the man who invented the atomic bomb, the film never actually shows the devastating weapon being used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The artistic choice polarized many cinephiles — including Spike Lee.
In a new interview with the Washington Post, Lee heaped praise on Nolan but said that he would have liked to see the film place more emphasis on the Japanese people.
“And Chris Nolan with ‘Oppenheimer,’ you know, he’s a massive filmmaker. Great film. I showed (‘Dunkirk’) in my class. And this is not a criticism. It’s a comment. How long was (‘Oppenheimer’)? If it’s three hours, I would like to add some more minutes about what happened to the Japanese people,” Lee said. “People got vaporized. Many years later, people are radioactive. It’s not like he didn’t have power. He tells studios what to do. I would have loved to have the end of the film maybe show what it did, dropping those two nuclear bombs on Japan.”
Lee made it clear that his comments were simply good-natured speculation about what he would have done with another filmmaker’s project. He added that Nolan probably would have had similar notes about his own movies.
“Understand, this is all love,” he said. “And I bet he could tell me some things he would change about ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Malcolm X.’”
While Nolan is often reluctant to discuss the themes of his films and the artistic choices that he makes, he recently explained why he opted not to show the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He cited the technological limitations of the era and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s limited access to military intelligence, explaining that the physicist was not able to observe the bombings or their aftermath in real time.
“We know so much more than he did at the time,” Nolan said. “He learned about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the radio, the same as the rest of the world.”