Oppenheimer Is Continuing Nolan's Very Peculiar Obsession
His newest feature will contain his most prevalent theme - the one he calls 'the most cinematic of subjects.'
Writer/director Christopher Nolan's upcoming Oppenheimer will be different in many ways from his past work, but it will share the same motif found in just about all of his filmography.
Oppenheimer will chronicle the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, nicknamed the Father of the Atomic Bomb as one of the key minds behind the Manhattan Project. This will be Nolan's first biopic of a real-life figure after a career that has spanned several genres - neo-noir, fantasy, historical sci-fi, space exploration and even superhero.
But almost all of these films had overlapping elements, which is one of the reasons Nolan is considered one of the last true auteurs in cinema. His most prevalent theme in every film is the manipulation of time.
His breakthrough film was Memento, told backwards through the eyes of a man who can't remember more than 15 minutes at a time. Each scene felt out of place, and we only understood how we got to the beginning of one scene when we got to the end of the next. It was not until the end of the movie that we fully understood the true timeline of events.
In Inception, every dream sequence runs faster than reality. In Interstellar, the main character travels through a wormhole and meets his elderly daughter. In Tenet, Nolan messed with everyone's brain with his version of time travel.
But two of his movies play with time in a more subtle fashion. His first independent feature, Following, made frequent jumps in time to keep the viewer off guard. He split Dunkirk into three acts and used a ticking countdown to heighten the intensity. Oppenheimer will likely feature a mix of these two elements.
In a realistic biopic, a filmmaker can't play with time as obviously as in sci-fi. But we're likely to see quick, jarring jumps in time during Oppenheimer's life, showing the inner conflict and anxiety the famed scientist went through while creating the world's first weapon of mass destruction. Oppenheimer's teaser trailer featured a ticking clock - something that inherently heightens anxiety in viewers. That countdown, signaling the bomb's detonation, will likely be a key feature in his movie.
Nolan has spoken at length about his obsession with time in movies, most extensively with NPR in 2020, just a few months after the release of Tenet. He called time 'the most cinematic of subjects:'
'Time is the most cinematic of subjects because before the movie camera came along, human beings had no way of seeing time backwards, slowed down, sped up. And I think that went some way to sort of explain to me why I've been interested in exploring it in movies because I think there's a really productive relationship.'