Christopher Nolan On The One Big Thing We Don't See In Oppenheimer

This article contains light spoilers for "Oppenheimer"

Though the film is titled "Oppenheimer," J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) shares the spotlight of his own biographical drama. The film is just as much about him and his world-changing work as it is about the atomic bomb, which he and his team of scientists tediously develop during the Second World War. Its existence looms large over the entire story, but we don't ultimately see the technology's infamous use on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. According to Nolan, there's a reason why moviegoers don't witness the bombing of the two cities in his latest feature.

Following a screening of "Oppenheimer" in New York, Nolan divulged his rationale behind avoiding imagery of Hiroshima and Nagasaki's destruction. Given that Oppenheimer is the film's main human subject, the story unfolds from his perspective, so the director didn't feel it quite made sense to cover the bombing of Japan. "We know so much more than he did at the time. He learned about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the radio, the same as the rest of the world," Nolan said, adding that "Oppenheimer" is an interpretation of the real-life story, not a documentary (via IndieWire).

In the spirit of keeping "Oppenheimer" firmly in that realm, the narrative Nolan presents is more about the man and his mind than his scientific endeavors.

First and foremost, Oppenheimer is a character study

As the atomic bomb creeps closer and closer to its completion, "Oppenheimer" chronicles the internal struggles and anxiety of its lead character. Yes, he desires to use his scientific skills to create a weapon that can put a decisive end to the bloodshed of World War II, but at the same time, being the one responsible for such a destructive object is a horrific and guilt-spawning proposition — something that truly sinks in during the fateful Trinity Test. This is what Christopher Nolan really hones in on throughout the film, giving moviegoers a proper character study wrapped in a political drama.

"There's also a recurring motif that has a lot to do with him closing his eyes. To me, it's really about staying in his head," Nolan explained at the New York screening. Thus, the film keeps audiences largely within Oppenheimer's mind while subjectively recalling the development of the atomic bomb from his point of view. That's not to say that it would've been impossible for Nolan to use this framework to cover the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but instead, he kept the film more personal and explored the psyche of Oppenheimer during such a pivotal point in his life as well as history at large.

Oppenheimer's concerns about the atomic bomb are timeless

All in all, it seems that Christopher Nolan did an excellent job of conveying J. Robert Oppenheimer's worried perspective on screen, and not just because first reactions to the movie over on Twitter were largely pretty positive. Real physicists have come out to praise Nolan for his depiction of the man behind the atomic bomb and his concerns about his creation. For instance, physicist Carlo Riveli urged folks to see "Oppenheimer," touting the questions and moral quandaries it presents as some of its strongest elements.

"The kind of questions that it raises are not just about the '40s and general issues about morality of science. These are burning questions today," Riveli said of the feature, mentioning that Oppenheimer's worries about the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons were ahead of their time. Nolan also spoke on the subject, revealing that the experience of making "Oppenheimer" changed his perspective on nuclear weaponry and general attitudes toward it. He shared, "I realized that our relationship to the role of nuclear weapons ebbs and flows due to the political situation, and it shouldn't, because the threat is constant."

"Oppenheimer" is now playing exclusively in theaters.