Groundbreaking director Christopher Nolan is returning to the backdrop of WWII with his 12th film, “Oppenheimer,” a star-studded biographical drama depicting the life of scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the creation of the atomic bomb.
Though exact plot details are being kept under wraps, the movie is based on Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” Published in 2006, the 721-page book took Bird and Sherwin 25 years to research and write. Both authors are credited as writers of the film, with Nolan himself penning the screenplay. The film is produced by Nolan, Emma Thomas and Atlas Entertainment’s Charles Roven. Ludwig Göransson is composing original music, and Nolan’s go-to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema has signed on as DP.
Cillian Murphy is starring as Oppenheimer, the American physicist who was dubbed the “father of the atomic bomb.” He was the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico and held a large role in the Manhattan Project during World War II, which developed the first nuclear weapons. According to the Atomic Heritage Foundation, after the war, Oppenheimer lobbied for international control of nuclear weapons to avoid an arms race with the Soviet Union and opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb. During the Red Scare, Oppenheimer was accused of being a member of the Communist Party and was revoked of his security clearance after a hearing. For the rest of his days, he continued to teach, write and research about physics.
Emily Blunt is in talks to play Oppenheimer’s wife, Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, a biologist, botanist and member of the Communist Party of America. She immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1913, when she was just 3 years old. Katherine was first married to musician Frank Ramseyer (though their marriage was quickly annulled), then to activist Joe Dallet, who was killed while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. She then married Richard Harrison, an Oxford-educated doctor, but began an affair with Oppenheimer during the marriage while visiting his New Mexico ranch. When Katherine discovered she was pregnant, she divorced Harrison and married Oppenheimer in a small civil ceremony. According to the Atomic Heritage Foundation, when Oppenheimer was called to work at the Los Alamos lab, Katherine used her education as a biologist — she had a bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Pennsylvania — to assess the danger of radiation at the lab by conducting blood tests. However, she quit after about a year and focused on raising their two children, Peter and Toni.
Florence Pugh will play Jean Tatlock, a psychiatrist, physician and Communist Party member. A graduate of Vassar College and Stanford Medical School, Tatlock began a relationship with Oppenheimer while she was studying at Stanford and he was teaching physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Due to her involvement in the Communist Party and Oppenheimer’s high profile, Tatlock was surveilled by the FBI. According to the Atomic Heritage Project, Oppenheimer proposed to Tatlock twice, but she refused, though the two continued to see each other after Oppenheimer’s marriage to Katherine.
Benny Safdie is set to play Edward Teller, who is known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb.” He was an early member of the Manhattan Project along with Oppenheimer, but later testified against him at his security hearing during the Red Scare, according to the Atomic Heritage Project. While at Los Alamos, Teller and Oppenheimer had disagreed over fission and fusion research, and Teller was the only person at the trial who testified that Oppenheimer should not be given security clearance, as he felt he was hindering the country’s nuclear development program by not supporting the hydrogen bomb. Because of this testimony, Teller was somewhat ostracized from the scientific community. Rami Malek is also playing a scientist at Los Alamos, though the specific part has yet to be announced.
Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon will portray Lewis Strauss and Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, respectively, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Strauss was the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission during the Manhattan Project who initiated the hearings questioning Oppenheimer’s loyalty to the U.S. during the Red Scare. Groves, on the other hand, was the director of the Manhattan Project. According to Deadline, “Pearl Harbor” star Josh Hartnett has also joined the cast in an undisclosed role.
“Oppenheimer” is set to release exclusively in theaters on July 21, 2023 and is backed by Universal Pictures, marking the first non-Warner Bros. produced film Nolan has made since 2000’s “Memento.” With a budget of $100 million, the film represents a rare artistic and financial risk for Universal — industry experts estimate that “Oppenheimer” will have to make around $400 million at the global box office to make a profit. However, with a cast full of star power and goldmine of interesting characters, “Oppenheimer” could also prove that adults still have an appetite to see a film on the big screen.
As Variety‘s Rebecca Rubin pointed out in her analysis of why the film could be the last of its kind, “studios are turning to filmmakers with unique perspectives who can launch a film based on their name alone. Privately, other Hollywood players have voiced their desire to see ‘Oppenheimer’ succeed because it would encourage studio executives and financiers to take more chances on new ideas.”