Forget Tom Cruise throwing himself out of a plane and all the M3GANS dancing together, because next year’s cinematic event that you’re really going to have to steel yourself for is Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer press tour. The acclaimed, bombastic director returns three years after Tenet for his movie about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father” — or, more accurately, daddy, seeing as how he’s played by Cillian Murphy — of the atomic bomb. You know: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”? That guy? Well, don’t worry about it, here’s a new trailer to jog your memory.
The real thing to worry about is Nolan, who at this point seems incapable of getting through a press tour for one of his films without landing in some kind of hot water. For the past few years, he has fought in defense of the theatrical experience, refusing to work with Netflix or any other major streaming services — an admirable conviction, especially in the current economy, though by now it’s mostly remembered as a meme of people watching his 2017 film Dunkirk “the way Christopher Nolan intended,” i.e., on a too-small, low-res screen.
This obsession with theatrical viewing also backfired on Nolan in 2020, when he insisted that Tenet be released in theaters in August when COVID-19 numbers were still high. “Why on Earth Was Christopher Nolan Trying to Lure Us Into Movie Theaters Teeming With Pathogens to Watch Tenet?” asked Slate at the time. Great question. With two years’ hindsight, I think it’s because the movie was really fucking cool; knowing that I would eventually get COVID twice anyway, I wish I had just driven out to New Jersey and seen Tenet big and loud, the way Christopher Nolan intended.
But all of those minor controversies are small potatoes compared to what’s just around the corner. To reiterate: This is a Christopher Nolan movie about the atomic bomb. Pre-press tour, he has already volunteered the information that they tried to blow something up for real, kind of. What else is this crazy, wackadoo cool guy with completely incomprehensible politics going to say? Is the movie going to be pro-bomb? Anti-bomb? Is it going to come to the conclusion that the bomb is an amazing piece of science that did something terrible? Maybe he’ll be really derisive toward Hulu, which would be funny, or maybe he’ll say that the problem with the society is that science doesn’t make cool bombs anymore. Are we going to have to cancel J. Robert Oppenheimer?
It’s sort of exciting to imagine all the ways in which the Oppenheimer press tour could go wrong. Someone, somewhere, in this giant cast — which includes Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Alden Ehrenreich, and so on — has the risk of opening their mouth and accidentally saying something like, “War is good.” Or maybe Nolan will say it himself. Wouldn’t that be a treat?
Oppenheimer is out next July, the same weekend as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, and I’ll be seated in the theater for my third viewing of the new Mission Impossible.