If it’s possible for one scene to radically elevate an entire movie, it’s the scene where Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) gives his victory speech and the sound drops away apart from a solitary scream and the quiet aftermath of nuclear devastation. This scene sets off a quietly horrifying third act where it becomes clear how much Oppenheimer strives—and has been striving throughout the film—to never see what he’s done. The most gripping moments of the film are those few instants when this man who sees so much is brought close to actually seeing and understanding what he did.
My concern throughout was that Nolan is too conventional a director to grapple with the existential magnitude of nuclear weapons. Nolan is clearly more interested in politics and the bomb as a scar on a man’s soul than the idea of nuclear trauma as a wound in the fabric of existence. While I still think his approach is insufficiently experimental to be truly horrifying, there’s enough complexity revealed in his script’s third act that it has me questioning my view on the first half.