The following is an excerpt of a review of the new motion picture “Oppenheimer” written by Pax Christi Young Adult Caucus member Ryan DiCorpo for America. Use this link to read the review in its entirety.
by Ryan DiCorpo
America, July 21, 2023
Shortly after Little Boy detonated over the morning sky of Hiroshima—choking the city with a plume of dense smoke, scorching the landscape with the white heat of the sun and in a moment banishing tens of thousands of civilians to nothing more than a memory—the 37-year-old Jesuit missionary Pedro Arrupe made his way to the wreckage.
The Basque priest, then appointed as novice master in Hiroshima, had seen the inside of a prison cell years earlier when some Japanese officials wrongly pegged him as a spy. He considered his execution to be a definite possibility, but spared an untimely death, he survived to see Hiroshima transformed into one of history’s largest cemeteries. Father Arrupe wrote that the American bomb exploded “similar to the blast of a hurricane,” and described the scene on the ground.
“I shall never forget my first sight of what was the result of the atomic bomb: a group of young women, 18 or 20 years old, clinging to one another as they dragged themselves along the road.…We did the only thing that could be done in the presence of such mass slaughter: we fell on our knees and prayed for guidance, as we were destitute of all human help.”
In its singular focus on the New York-born, Harvard-educated “father of the atomic bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer, a man both ridiculed for his past and haunted by the future he unleashed, director Christopher Nolan mostly forgoes graphic depictions of the bombings’ aftermath and leaves the audience to envision the human misery wrought by the nuclear strikes. Perhaps taking a cue from the French filmmaker Robert Bresson, who found that “art lies in suggestion,” Nolan asks the audience to imagine the true face of the monster without fully revealing its form.
A heady, visually arresting and ultimately terrifying tour de force, “Oppenheimer” is both a startling re-examination of American history through the piercing eyes of a man who shaped it and a bleak warning about the nuclear age. Shifting between blazing color and stark black-and-white cinematography, the film is bifurcated by Oppenheimer’s leadership of the Manhattan Project, the clandestine government program to build the world’s first atomic weapon, and an infamous 1954 security hearing that saw Oppenheimer railroaded by McCarthyites for his prior left-wing sympathies. …