Christopher Nolan is Making a Movie About Robert Oppenheimer, and Variety Wants Me to Care

See how far you can get into their marketing gibberish before you give up.

There’s so many things wrong with this. First of all, Robert Oppenheimer was not an heroic figure, however poetic his turn to the Baghavad-Gita was upon viewing what his science had wrought. He was a lab coat surrounded by lab coats. Nolan will break his ankles making the Road to Alamogordo a puzzle like the Gordian Knot, but it will ultimately be forgettable, just as The Imitation Game was (seriously, who actually watched that more than once?). I mean, better than another superhero movie, but is it?

The deeper problem is that Variety actually seems worried:

The reason that Universal’s chairwoman Donna Langley made it her mission to court Nolan after his relationship with Warner Bros. grew strained is that he’s one of the few directors who can take a bold swing and rake in hundreds of millions at the box office. It’s especially valuable at a time when Hollywood appears to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for IP that can be spun into cinematic gold. Case in point: There are (real) movies in the works based on the card game Uno, the crunchy snack Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and the invention of Viagra. Because not every project can be derived from Marvel, Star Wars, James Bond, Jurassic World and Fast & Furious, 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., “Why Christopher Nolan’s $100 Million WWII Drama Could be the Last of its Kind

It is as I have expected: the only alternative to the endless recycling of IP is Auteur Filmmaking, the elevation of the Director With a Fan Base. Nolan has a solid box-office track record, Tenet-excluded. But he’s not Tarantino. He’s devolved into creating mid-tier respectable tedium.

Look at his filmography. Memento was a great movie, creative and visceral. His Batman trilogy was better than every DCU film and leagues beyond most Batman movies ever made (except the first one, of course). I even like The Prestige and Inception.

But I didn’t see Interstellar, and I didn’t see Dunkirk, and I’d rather read a Twitter thread on how bad Tenet is than sit through it. That’s because Nolan has run out of ideas. Really, even Inception was just a riff on Memento: a meditation on perception and reality, with dreams instead of time. Tenet appears to have been an even thinner stretching of the same idea – time goes forward, backward – masterfully expressed in Memento. A director needs to build on what he’s done, not coast on it. It would be as if Kubrick kept making noir thrillers and never moved on into Dr. Strangelove or Paths of Glory.

Additionally, and I think we’re all starting to feel this, the World War II well is feelin’ kinda dry. They’ve been making movies about it since it was happening. We’re 80 years in at this point. It’s the Harry Potter of wars. I wanted to see Fury, but never got around to it. I didn’t even bother with Sea Wolf, or whatever that navy movie with Tom Hanks was called. Roland Emmerich’s Midway? Heard it was good, haven’t bothered. I’ve seen these battles fought so many times under so many directions. I recognize that it’s the conflict that made the world we live in. But I’m really tired of mining it for drama. The further it passes from living memory, the more it becomes captured by the ideological constructs of today, and the less real it becomes. War – a thing endemic to human existence – needs a fresher vision than two hours of tinkering with math to become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.


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