(Photo by ©Universal Pictures)



The countdown to the explosive July 21, 2023 premiere of Christopher Nolan's epic biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inventor of the atomic bomb, has been going on for months now on billboards and movie theatre pop-ups all across Los Angeles.

The plot twists in Nolan films are always kept hidden behind safe doors with the totems, and the performers never spill a drop of Earl Grey tea. Even in a Nolan movie based on actual facts, there are always curtains to pull back in order to see the magic behind the prestige. Here is everything we know about Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, with more than five months until IMAX theatres are jam-packed to the gills:


(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Paramount Pictures)

Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan's 12th feature picture, marks his comeback after three years after Tenet's tumultuous pandemic-delayed release. Many changes in Nolan's career can be seen in the biography about the prominent theoretical physicist. In the first place, the movie marks his first collaboration with Universal Pictures after his acrimonious breakup with his old studio, Warner Bros., which had distributed all of his films since Insomnia. In the case of Interstellar, Paramount and Warner Bros. split distribution.

In 2021, WB decided to simultaneously release every movie on HBO Max and in cinemas. Nolan responded by calling them "the worst streaming service," a staunch supporter of the theatrical experience. Many studios fought it out for Oppenheimer's production and distribution, including Sony, Paramount, and Apple. In the end, Universal prevailed after agreeing to Nolan's terms, which included complete creative control and a conventional theatrical window.

(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

The members of Nolan's production crew have consolidated but also slightly changed. After working with Nolan on Tenet, Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson, who is one Tony away from an EGOT, returns. This raises the issue of whether Nolan's renowned cooperation with Hans Zimmer is ended or simply on hold. Hoyte Van Hoytema, a Dutch-Swedish cinematographer who can essentially carry an IMAX camera on his shoulders, will shoot his fourth Nolan film with Oppenheimer. Also, to recreate the nuclear testing, visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson (Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk, Tenet) collaborated with longtime Nolan special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher. (More on those in a moment.)

The newcomers, though, are production designer Ruth De Jong, who collaborated with Van Hoytema and Universal on Nope, and costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, who has 45 years of experience (Beyond the Candelabra, The Greatest Showman, Bridgerton).


(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Universal Pictures)

About 20 years after Cillian Murphy's screen test for Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, which the director found to be so captivating that it resulted in Murphy's casting as the evil Scarecrow, the Irish actor finally takes on a leading role for one of his greatest cinematic partners. Murphy's captivating eyes will serve as a window into one of the most complicated minds in human history, if the movie's trailer is any clue.

Leslie Groves Jr., a mustachioed general, is another step up for Matt Damon from his covert role in Interstellar. Oppenheimer contains Casey Affleck (Interstellar), Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk, Tenet), James D'Arcy (Dunkirk), Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises), David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Trilogy) as President Harry S. Truman, so the reunions are extensive overall.

(Photo by Emma McIntyre, Karwai Tang, Mondadori Portfolio, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Harry Styles' comeback seems out of place, but Nolan is reaching out to younger audiences by using Oscar contender Florence Pugh. Meanwhile, Josh Peck, whose casting is reminiscent of Topher Grace's in Interstellar and begs the issue of whether the Nolan family is a fan of early 2000s sitcoms, offers an unexpected extra entry point into the social media generation.

Hollywood A-listers make up the rest of the cast. The remaining well-known actors include Emily Blunt, Rami Malek, and Robert Downey Jr.; Alex Wolff, Dane DeHaan, and Devon Bostick add a touch of the indie darling atmosphere. Then there's a flood of that guys, led by debutant Jason Clarke, but also featuring Alden Ehrenreich as the youthful Han Solo and Josh Hartnett, who, like Murphy, was almost cast as Batman but turned down the part.

Perhaps the most tantalizing piece of the acting puzzle, however, is Tom Conti as Albert Einstein. The casting was not heavily reported on, but then, in the IMAX exclusive trailer ahead of Avatar: The Way of Water, bam, there was Einstein, a bombshell cameo to rival the obsessive superhero cameo culture.


(Photo by ©Universal Pictures)

At first glance, the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s involvement in the creation of the atomic bomb, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, presents itself as a departure from the Nolan norm. He’s never done a biopic. He’s only directed two period films, both more explicitly in his wheelhouse. And he’s not usually one to tell a story based on real events. (The exception, Dunkirk, has close personal ties to Nolan’s British upbringing.) But upon closer inspection, the film is a culmination of Nolan’s most prominent interests.

In his core, Nolan is a materialist. He imagines Batman as being equipped with military technology in the Dark Knight trilogy, and Gotham as being just Chicago. His science fiction in Interstellar just expands on the ideas being discussed by the greatest theoretical physicists in the world. The fantastical is less prominent in The Prestige, and the biggest revelation is that there was just a twin brother. It only makes sense, when viewed through that lens, that Nolan would create a movie about the person who created the most potent artifact in human history.

(Photo by ©Universal Pictures)

Particularly nuclear weapons have been in Nolan movies for more than ten years. The neutron bomb is the central theme of The Dark Knight Rises. Such weapons are one of the director's greatest fears, he told The Daily Beast when promoting Interstellar. Tenet even mentions Oppenheimer by name. It's understandable why Nolan swiftly agreed to the project when Oppenheimer producer Charles Roven (The Dark Knight trilogy) offered the novel.

Although this is Christopher Nolan's first biopic, he came close to making one about Howard Hughes twenty years ago. Nolan deems it "the best story I've ever written," and it was to feature Jim Carrey, but it was shelved until Martin Scorsese's The Aviator went into production. Many of these themes were incorporated by Nolan into Bruce Wayne. And if some of the dialogue from the IMAX-only trailer, such as "You're a dilettante, you're a womanizer, unstable, theatrical, neurotic," is any clue, some of it may have also found a home in Oppenheimer.


(Photo by ©Universal Pictures)

Oppenheimer will feature footage in color and in black-and-white, harkening back to the director’s breakout film, Memento. But the IMAX-obsessed Nolan encountered an immediate technical hurdle: no one had ever shot on IMAX film in black-and-white before.

“So we challenged the people at Kodak and Fotokem to make this work for us,” Nolan told Total Film. “And they stepped up. For the first time ever, we were able to shoot IMAX film in black-and-white. And the results were thrilling and extraordinary.”

However, no hurdle would be greater for the practical-forward director than simulating the Trinity Test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon. Details are sparse, but Nolan confirmed to Total Film that his team accomplished it without CGI. Given how unprecedented even a tiny fraction of an atomic explosion would be for a film production, one must ask if miniatures and/or forced perspective were used. But as with all Nolan movies, only time will tell.

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