After watching Oppenheimer, I asked some friends, “Did we need that movie?” and it was a resounding “No” from the chorus. I agreed.
I appreciate what Christopher Nolan‘s film did as a completed piece of cinematic work. It was remarkable to tell such a dense story and based on its “Certified Fresh” Rotten Tomatoes score, I am one of the few that are not gushing over this movie.
That being said, l take the movie for exactly what it is: a story about a womanizing genius white man who leads the creation of the atomic bomb only to hold a burden of guilt on his shoulders when the nuclear weapon designed to annihilate a good chunk of humanity ends up annihilating a good chunk of humanity. If we are being more specific, the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended up killing between 129,000 and 226,000 Japanese people, most of them civilians.
However, the movie that includes a majority white cast makes sure it’s not about any of that. The three hour film is about the emotionally tumultuous journey the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian “Cheekbones” Murphy) has while he’s haunted and constantly at odds with his genius and the changing world around him.
The movie is just as much about Mr. Oppenheimer as it is about Mrs. Oppenheimer — Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, played with a stone-faced jaded “I’m over this suburban life and atomic bomb bullshit” steeliness by the wonderful Emily Blunt — the saving grace of this movie… for me at least.
Kitty seemed like a woman who just needed someone to listen to her — and back in those days no one wanted to listen to women. Despite Nolan’s abilities to underwrite women in his films, I was very interested in Kitty, who was a biologist and a former member of the Communist Party of America. I feel like she really started to unravel when she and Oppenheimer went to Los Alamos for the Manhattan Project.
The film shows her as a troubled alcoholic who is brutally honest, in a loveless marriage and not to be fucked with — and that comes from Blunt’s performance of the little Nolan wrote for this female character… or any of his female characters for that matter.
There will be a plethora of think pieces about all that I have talked about already: the handling of the murdering of over 120,000 Japanese people in this atomic bomb narrative as well as the continued bolstering of narratives about troubled men throughout history who are directly and vaguely connected to bad things that had a profound, complex — and mostly negative — impact on culture and the world. Also, the Oppenheimer movie poster is giving indie horror movie and also looks like a rejected poster idea for a Doctor Strange installment.
The movie felt like Nolan’s ultimate Oppenheimer fantasy movie of his dreams — which included Murphy and Florence Pugh’s “prolonged nudity” scene that got too much attention than needed. It’s clear that Nolan has a deep admiration for Oppenheimer and his story. As an ode to Oppenheimer, the film soars and I am happy for everyone who adores this film. For me, it’s just another great film that exists on my “great gowns, beautiful gowns” list. It’s a movie I don’t care to watch again.
It’s no secret that Nolan has a problem with how he presents women in his films. He is in desperate need of help in that department. Blunt sculpts a fantastic portrayal of Kitty with mindful care but also with an entertaining zhuzh that give it a campy wink. She can give you FYC tea as seen in the showdown with Jason Clarke’s Roger Robb during the Oppenheimer security hearing. Blunt can also make you unintentionally laugh as she walks into a scene as a drunk with Dynasty-level energy.
If there is one thing that Oppenheimer did for me it was preserve the “Troubled Woman Hanging Laundry On Clothesline” trope which has been seen in films throughout the decades. It’s a very domestic trope that bolsters gender roles but more often than not, it often shows a woman — most of the time white — in anguish. It’s always giving “a wife questioning her husband and his behavior”. There so much suffering that exudes through a “domesticated woman hanging laundry on a clothesline” scene. There’s nuance, complexities and it screams “I’m a modern woman that deserves more than this!” It also says “I have to be here for my man no matter what!” It’s a trope that represents so much… and it’s funny as fuck. Blunt deserves an Oscar for cementing this trope into our cinematic vernacular through Oppenheimer.
In one form or the other we have alway seen this trope. Some women are more troubled than others and if they are not troubled they will be in trouble later on in the movie. But the one common denominator is the dramatization of hanging laundry on a clothesline.
Before I strapped myself in for the three hour journey that is Oppenheimer, I thought to myself, “I wonder if this movie will have a moment where Emily Blunt is hanging laundry on a clothesline in turmoil”. Lo and behold, there was a scene that included Blunt’s Kitty handling laundry on a clothesline. When she showed up on screen I was so giddy. I was smothering my victorious laughter so much that my armpits started sweating. What made it even better was that the bedsheets hanging on the clothesline were a critical part to the story.
When Oppenheimer and his team were conducting the Trinity test for the atomic bomb, he was not allowed to be so openly communicative about any his work because it was top secret government intel. He told Kitty if the Trinity test was successful, he would have his office give her a call to tell her to “bring in the sheets” — and that’s exactly what happened.
Well, I’m not sure if that’s exactly what happened in real life, but it happened in the movie thus cementing this manufactured trope into the annals of cinematic history.