Unique: Oppenheimer book author Kai Bird opens up on hits and misses of Christopher Nolan’s movie

Unique: Oppenheimer book author Kai Bird opens up on hits and misses of Christopher Nolan’s movie


Kai Bird is not the author who’d complain that his book has been tailored right into a movie that does not do justice to its supply materials. Because that movie is Oppenheimer. Christopher Nolan’s biopic of American nuclear physicist J Robert Oppenheimer remodeled $900 million on the international field workplace and has been dominating the award season, together with the nominations on the upcoming Oscars. (Also Read: Oscar 2024 winners: Predictions for the top accolades at the 96th Academy Awards)

Christopher Nolan and Kai Bird

“Let me make it clear that the movie by Nolan is fabulous. It’s a great artistic achievement. And it’s a wonderful adaptation of the book. I can recognise in the dialogues whole sentences and paras taken out of the book. It’s not only an artistically visual experience, but also teaches a lot of history. And it’s accurate. I’m very grateful to Nolan,” Kai told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview at Jaipur Literature Festival. He is the author of the 2005 biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer.

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Prologue and epilogue

But Kai thinks that there’s great value in those who’ve watched Oppenheimer read his book, only because it offers insight into what happened before Christopher Nolan‘s story starts and what transpired after it ends. “It’s very long, but even three hours of movie can’t do what a book can do in 720 pages. There’s nothing in the movie, for instance, about Oppenheimer’s childhood in New York, growing up very privileged. There’s nothing about what Oppenheimer did after the 1954 trial, when he retreated every year to St John Virgin Islands,” he mentioned.

In reality, Kai is amused by the thought that there must be a sequel to Oppenheimer as a result of of how the scientist’s life unravelled after the 1954 trial. “It’s a sad story. He was really humiliated and destroyed in that secret trial. The transcripts of the entire month-long proceedings was leaked to The New York Times. All the private details of his life, his love affairs, his left-wing politics, were released. Everyone in America was left to believe that he’s an untrustworthy man, maybe disloyal, maybe a spy for the Russians. This pained Oppenheimer deeply,” mentioned Kai.

On Nolan’s politics

However, the author does not agree that Nolan’s narrative skirted over the Japanese aspect of the story. “I understand what Nolan was doing there. The movie, in large part, is from Oppenheimer’s point of view. In fact, large part of the screenplay is in first person. So you’re learning all this history from his perspective. It’s clear in the movie that he’s deeply pained and emotional about the tragedy of the loss of lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But he was never there. He never saw it,” Kai said.

“Nolan has a point of showing a scene of Oppenheimer watching a newsreel and you can see him very disturbed. Likewise, there’s another scene where he’s giving this victory speech and he’s hallucinating that there’s a woman in the audience whose face melts. I think that’s powerful. He’s forcing the viewers to imagine for themselves what happened on-ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And that’s much more powerful than showing old news clips of the destroyed cities with no people in it,” Kai added.

Oppenheimer’s holistic character

Kai additionally claims that the book paints a extra well-rounded image of Oppenheimer, the person, the scientist, and the character. “You learn more about his politics. We go on and on about investigating whether Oppenheimer was close to the Communist Party, whether he was pink or he was actually red (laughs). The evidence is complicated. The movie is a good summary of that. But the book dives deeper. In the book, there’s room with words to convey the story with more nuance and complexity,” Kai said.

He argued that the reader would learn more about Oppenheimer’s quest to learn quantum physics, and how naturally it came to him. “He was a very bad experimental physicist, he was bad at math, he was awkward with his hands, but he had instinctive insights about quantum physics, which is very difficult to understand. He could hear the music as such. The film captures some of that, but in the book, you learn more about it,” mentioned Kai.

Yet Kai admits defeat in the case of how Nolan channels the character’s depth on display. And he has actor Cillian Murphy to thank for it as effectively. “His personality, those bright blue eyes. When I met him, I complimented him that he’s captured Oppenheimer’s voice. He had a very distinctive voice that was very eloquent, each word and syllable clearly pronounced. He spoke very softly, almost in a whisper sometime. His accent is odd – it’s not British, not classic American, it’s sort of East-Coast New York,” Kai mentioned.

Kai believes the mix of Nolan’s therapy and Cillian’s depiction went a great distance in presenting Oppenheimer as a “younger, wired-up man attempting to determine the world. “Well, you can’t have sound, silence or colour on the page. What Nolan has done is take this book and transform it into something else that is his vision, not mine. It often doesn’t work (laughs). But in this case, it works pretty well,” Kai mentioned.

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