A Masterclass In Paradox

There are certain rules of storytelling on a screen. For example, the protagonist should have a goal. It is a very straight forward rule. One that all the Christopher Nolan films follow. The young man in Following? Has a goal. Leonard Shelby? Has a goal. So do Batman, Dom Cobb, Joseph Cooper and others. In fact, every protagonist in every character driven film of his has goals, except Oppenheimer.

Here comes the twist. Oppenheimer doesn’t have one goal, but two. He spends first half of the film trying to make The Bomb and second half trying to stop it from further development. In filmmaking, the characters are supposed to evolve, change in the end. But in Oppenheimer, it feels like, he goes through two full sets of metamorphoses. And both of them seem to be fully distinct and self-contained. In fact, if you look at Lewis Strauss, whether you know it or not, his character has one single goal throughout the film. On the contrary, Oppenheimer’s is a story of a paradoxical man, told in a paradoxical manner. That is why Oppenheimer’s POV is in colour (subjective) and Strauss’ is in B/W (objective). In fact, Nolan wrote the screenplay itself in that way – Oppenheimer’s scenes in first person and Strauss’s in regular, objective way. A novelty which only a filmmaker of Nolan’s stature is ‘allowed to do’ and can pull-off.

The mastery of Nolan as a filmmaker comes in play in how he portrays both the journeys with same panache. Many people complained that they liked the second half of the film more. Well I think because in the second half the goal is very contemporary and relatable on emotional level. While the same in the first half is material and academic. When you rewatch the film armed with the knowledge of the second journey, the first half works like a magic on emotional level. Having a strong revisit value is what makes any Christopher Nolan film great. It’s a masterclass in paradox by the master himself.

The greatness of every Christopher Nolan film lies in another less discussed department, the casting. Who would have thought the man who was stereotyped as a Marvel superhero for this generation, could be the embodiment of Lewis Strauss? In fact, if Marvel gave us RDJ the charmer, Christopher Nolan single handedly introduced this generation to RDJ the actor. His lines, ‘amateurs seek the sun and get eaten, power lies in the shadow’ are still ringing in my ears. For reasons unknown, I liked Matt Damon’s Leslie Groves on a different level. He brought a certain charisma to the character. But the real masterstroke comes with the casting of Cillian Murphy. He holds all the paradoxes of Oppenheimer’s personality in his two deep eyes with every minute detail. He is class apart in every sense of the term.

Oppenheimer is a genre defining, time-bending amalgamation of political, scientific, psychological, horror masterpiece of art. It masquerades as a biopic, but is in fact a psychological analysis of Oppenheimer. That’s why the Manhatten Project, one of the most thrilling moments of history, comes at the midpoint and takes a backseat in overall proceedings. The real thrill comes in Oppenheimer’s visionary genius and his existence on a different psychological plane throughout the film. Hoyte Van Hoytema captured this in all it’s essence. And Ludwig Göransson scored it like never before. I have huge respect for Hans Zimmer, but honestly, I’m not missing him in a Christopher Nolan film anymore and yet I wish they work together again some day. A paradox indeed.

Oppenheimer is one of the most important film in Christopher Nolan’s career as a filmmaker, his best yet. It’s undoubtedly the best film of the year and one of the most important films of the decade, a milestone in the history of cinema, in every sense. While writing about Tenet, I wrote that it’s Nolan’s most complex film ever, even more complex than Inception. But who would have imagined that a straight-forward biopic would turn out to be Nolan’s most daring and complex work ever? I hope, no, in fact I want the next film to be even more complex. And I know it will happen, because #InTrustWeNolan.

— Vikram Edke
[For other articles visit www.vikramedke.com]

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