• On Second Thought, I Won’t Be Buying Ticket for ‘Oppenheimer’ …

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    Surge Summary: R-rated Oppenheimer features director Christopher Nolan’s first use of nudity and graphic sex — which is unnecessary. It’s time for movie goers to start telling Hollywood to stop this kind of stuff. 

    by Steve Pauwels

    I try to keep up with the general ebb-and-flow of pop culture (film, television, music, etc.) — so count me a tad surprised to find out just the other day about a controversy around the much-anticipated release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. I was looking forward to taking in the bio-pic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, organizer of the United States’ “Manhattan Project” and reputed “father of the atomic bomb”. But whaddya know! I discovered — to my consternation — the movie represents an unfortunate breakthrough for it’s widely celebrated director: Oppenheimer will receive an R-rating (Nolan’s first in over two decades) and features his premier use of graphic sex and nudity.

    “The hotly anticipated Christopher Nolan blockbuster contains a controversial — and steamy — sex scene, which “The Dark Knight” director was “nervous” to film,” informs the New York Post.  “The dramatic departure from Nolan’s usual style — his films famously avoid sex and nudity — has fans hot and bothered.”

    Throw in the British filmmaker’s artistic choice to have the eponymous main character reciting from the Bhagavad Gita – a text considered sacred by some Hindus — while doing the deed with his lover? Well, right there is a juicy, headline-grabbing scandal sizzling in the background of Oppenheimer‘s weekend debut.

    Turns out, this potential flashpoint had been unveiled nearly two months back, but I only stumbled across news of it days before the movie hit screens — much to my disappointment. And aggravation.

    Oppenheimer is garnering luminous reviews. It sounds like an excellent, even stirring, production on multiple levels.

    So …  why did Nolan elect to sully this summertime, big-screen blockbuster with what is reputedly gratuitous “t and a”?

    The Washington Stand‘s S.A. McCarthy, laments,

    A brief caveat spectator: “Oppenheimer” contains three R-rated sex scenes, which mar the otherwise masterful film. The graphic nature of these scenes is wholly unnecessary and even uncharacteristic of writer-director Christopher Nolan, who has famously not featured sex in any of his prior films. The film would be a magnum opus were it not for the inclusion of these scenes.

    Indeed, Nolan’s previous works have reliably managed to impress on aesthetic, crowd-pleasing and box-office grounds. His “Dark Knight” triad was met with nearly universal rhapsodies. 2010’s Inception? 2014’s Interstellar? Three years later, Dunkirk? Raves nearly all around. And PG-13, every one of them.

    Even Nolan’s frenetic, visually riveting but dramatically mind-cramping Tenet (2020) snagged ticket sales over $365 million   — and that during the COVID pandemic.

    In light of the 52-year-old director’s cinematic track record, Oppenheimer‘s sleaze factor elicited a reaction from my son — who’d also been excited about the flick — which mirrored my own: Why? Why’d Nolan go this route? There’s no compelling reason for him to do so. 

    Regrettably, the director recurs to the facile “this-is-just-real-life!” rationalization. You mean like bowel movements?  Or passing gas? I’m going to clamber out on a limb and guess Oppenheimer doesn’t — thankfully — include any lingering portrayals of either (although both presumably occurred regularly in the theoretical physicists’ experience.)

    So, pardon me; I ain’t buying it. Movies aren’t obligated to render every facet of existence with visible, granular specifics.

    “Nolan told reporters that it would have been impossible to tell the story without the sex,” continues the Post.

    Ummmm … “Impossible to tell the story”? Without alluding to the adulterous scientist’s hormonal proclivities, perhaps. But without extended, lingering and graphic erotic images? “Impossible“? Really?

    Please. Spare me.

    “When you look at Oppenheimer’s life and you look at his story,” the Interstellar director elaborated,

    [t]hat aspect of his life, the aspect of his sexuality, his way with women, the charm that he exuded, it’s an essential part of his story. It felt very important to understand their relationship and to really see inside it and understand what made it tick without being coy or allusive about it — but to try to be intimate, to try and be in there with him and fully understand the relationship that was so important to him.

    There’s little doubt an auteur of Messr. Nolan’s heft could have sketched the historical fact of Oppie’s womanizing and complicated marital situation minus explicitly bared boobies, buttocks and boinking. If not, he’s apparently not the movie-making master I’d assumed.

    Ironically, for all their commendable adherence to decency, old-timey films generally are not my preference. Their black-and-white look, stilted dialogue, excessively “theatrical” acting style, sterilized plotlines? For me, it all adds up to be a bit off-putting. I prefer movies that — as much as possible within their particular genre — present characters who react, respond, talk like authentic people; and which persuasively delineate a non-sanitized world, warts and all.

    Yet there are those like me who similarly put stock in tastefulness and a certain level of propriety — even in modern, more authentic cinema. And that’s the tricky needle that has to be threaded, isn’t it?  How to persuasively and affectingly depict parts of a fallen creation’s most sordid aspects — without extraneously wallowing in the corrupting, scrofulous details.

    By that measure, it seems – frustratingly — the talented Mr. Nolan missed the mark with his latest handiwork.

    The question lingers: Why? Is this merely a snapshot of a prominent, much-celebrated Hollywood type succumbing to the fashionable coercion of his colleagues?

    ““I’m worried Christopher Nolan didn’t know what sex is and he had the actors stand naked pressing their thumbs to each other[s’] foreheads,” one fan snarked.

    Christopher Nolan’s movies are seen by some as cold and sterile. Female characters are often a remote presence on the outskirts of the story. Nolan’s Batman and Joker were both chaste. Tom Hardy’s smirking dream thief character in “Inception” kept his clothes on. [The New York Post]

    I suspect the industry’s sniffs and snorts of disapproval were less-than-subtle: You need to loosen up, Chris! Squeeze a little voyeuristic nookie into your work. What are you, dude, some kind of blue nose?

    Decades ago, film critic/cultural commentator Michael Medved pointed out it’s actually not big bucks that are the preeminent driver of many a contemporary filmmaker, but their associates’ respect and accolades. Turns out, cocktail party high-fives or beaming New York Times coverage rates more weightily with not a few of these swells than do soaring receipts.

    Did Christopher Nolan and Oppenheimer simply buckle to age-old, pedestrian peer pressure?

    If so — or for whatever motivation — it doesn’t wash with me. The movie is generating swooning notices. The salaciousness is plainly unnecessary. It’s decidedly not okay with at least this potential audience member that he went with it anyway. There is no need for me to ogle Florence Pugh’s (“Jean Tatlock”) exposed breasts, or play spectator to her libidinously mounting Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”).

    Let me second the ancient psalmist’s pledge: “I will set nothing wicked [worthless] before my eyes.” (Psalm 101:3; NKJV)

    The Old Testament’s Job had the correct idea as well: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?”

    Finally, Jesus Himself cautioned: “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 28)

    (Also, check out: Proverbs 6:25)

    Film enthusiasts who are also valuers of general decency need to send a message to Tinsel Town: Enough of your glamorously propagated filth. If you must generate it, you’ll be doing so without our support.

    Once more, I genuinely was awaiting Oppenheimer’s arrival. I’ve decided this time around, though, I’ll be taking a pass on my local cineplex — and on Christopher Nolan.

    The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge.

    Image: Screen shot: Latest News; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWc1zJyyyXw

    Steve Pauwels

    Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH, Managing Editor over at dailysurge.com and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.

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