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Dark human nature shown in brightest, gigantic light

Written by World Events

If Hollywood is thought of by some as America’s mouthpiece, Oppenheimer has to be a nuclear bomb that could all but destroy that perception. The film and the Oscar awards it won this week have exponentially increased the idea that, despite playing arguably the biggest role in ending World War II, the United States is far from being a hero.

The awards largely concern filmmaking of the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” biography. They, however, have much to do with honest storytelling that exposed political secrecy at the highest level, the consideration of the Russians to be a major and eventual enemy even when they were on the same side, and the prior knowledge about _ and lack of sympathy toward _ massive innocent Japanese losses.

Last but not least, Oppenheimer does not benefit America when it comes to doubts on who triggered the arms race and were the biggest villainous creators of the Cold War.

It’s an anti-American movie in many important aspects, although the atomic bomb race against the Nazis was highlighted a few times. Japanese viewers will find many parts of the film hard or even impossible to take. Germany must be thanking God for a close call. Russia can have the movie shown in classrooms and tell its students “See? And they are painting us as the culprits for everything.”

If America is advocating peace and serious about reducing the nuclear threat, this film doesn’t help much. If its government seeks to promote straightforward diplomacy, political transparency, trust among allies and American heroes saving the world, the movie should not win Oscars which can draw more attention to the opposite of all those.

If The Deer Hunter, which won the Oscar in the 70s, helped make American soldiers look like victims in the Vietnam War and Argo, the best picture in 2012 (year of release), inflamed hatred of Iran, Oppenheimer is never a promoter of the United States for World War II.

But nobody can expect Christopher Nolan to make a propaganda movie. He is smart, profound, metaphysical, resourceful and apparently truthful. While many of his creations dealt with out-of-this-world scientific technicality, they stayed really close to facts, although some of the facts may be little known or difficult to understand.

What makes Oppenheimer great is the ability to make the heart pound through a mixture of a good score, cryptic dialogues and scene editing without having to show blood, or fighting, or dead mutilated bodies. Characters do not even punch, let alone jump onto a warplane or into a trench.

This is a war movie without tanks, fighters, bombers or beach-landing operations, but the impact is that it can scare viewers to death by forcing them imagine what can be realistically in store.

It’s not just a good score or good editing. Scenes that occur in flashes linger in viewers’ minds: People vomiting on hearing what the bomb has done; the main character imagining his admirers’ skins peeling off; and the vision of missiles carrying nuclear warheads streaking the sky.

In Oppenheimer, the darkest side of human nature is consistently demonstrated, and it climaxes in a huge blaze of light so bright everyone has to close his eyes.

There are a lot of memorable quotes especially on political cover-up, underestimation of what the enemies’ physicists can do and the danger of using scientific know-how for destruction instead of salvation. Perhaps one quote that hits the hardest was near the very end of Oppenheimer.

It was when the “hero” asked the Albert Einstein character if the latter remembered their previous conservation about “our calculations” being likely to start a chain reaction that could destroy the entire world.

“I remember it well,” Albert Einstein said. “What of it?”

The reply from J. Robert Oppenheimer was: “I believe we did.”

This brings to mind one remarkable quote in a 1997 movie “Contact”, which was critically acclaimed but not as renowned as Oppenheimer. The heroine was being asked by a screening committee what she would say to leaders of a highly-advanced alien civilization if she were to meet them and then allowed just one question.

“Well, I suppose it would be, how did you do it? How did you evolve, how did you survive this technological adolescence without destroying yourself?” she said.

Another great Oppenheimer line is as eerie as the movie itself. “Amateurs seek the sun,” said the Robert Downey Jr character. “(They) get eaten. Power stays in the shadows.”

By Tulsathit Taptim


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