Christopher Nolan's new film "Oppenheimer" triumphed in China following its release last weekend, with the director saying he believes the film serves as a cautionary tale for a world that remains under the shadow of nuclear threat.
A still image from "Oppenheimer." [Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures]
"I'm looking for something that's timeless, whatever period it's set in, and I think the Oppenheimer story has that quality of timelessness. It's a cautionary tale about things that continue to matter to us," Nolan said at a Q&A session with a Shanghai audience on Aug. 24 as part of his promotional tour in China, making him the first for a major Hollywood filmmaker to walk the red carpet here since COVID-19.
"The role of science in society, the relationship between science and the political world, and the responsibilities of scientists with the technology they bring to the world might have unintended consequences."
"Oppenheimer," an epic biographical thriller written and directed by Nolan, chronicles the remarkable career of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist who is widely recognized as the "Father of the Atomic Bomb." With Cillian Murphy as the titular character, the film is based on the 2005 biography "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. The biography was also re-released in China to coincide with the film and growing interest in its lead character and his place in history.
The film is even relevant to present-day innovations, especially artificial intelligence. "When I talk to the leading researchers in the field of AI right now, they literally refer to this as their 'Oppenheimer moment,' looking to his story to say, 'Okay, what are the responsibilities for scientists developing new technologies that may have unintended consequences?'"
"Oppenheimer" opened last week in China, taking in over 220 million yuan ($30.24 million), making it the second largest opening for a Nolan film in the Chinese market, according to Universal Pictures, trailing "Interstellar" by 17% gross. Audiences have received the film well, rating it a hefty 8.9 out of 10 on film aggregator platform Douban. It is the first foreign film going to No. 1 on China's box office chart following a summer bursting with domestic blockbusters. IMAX also reported that the 736 IMAX screens that "Oppenheimer" was shown on accounted for one-third of its total takings in the country, helped by it being hailed as the best format to view it on the big screen.
Director Christopher Nolan interacts with an audience in Shanghai in August 2023. [Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures]
"I think there are a number of techniques we employed in the service of trying to tell this story from the point of view of J. Robert Oppenheimer. One of the key things we did, was we filmed it using IMAX 65mm film. My feeling is that on a screen that big, it allows you to immerse yourself in the world of the character, and the frame around the image disappears, and you can just be there in the world of the characters," Nolan described in Shanghai.
As of Sept. 4, 2023, "Oppenheimer" has grossed $310.3 million in the United States and Canada, with a worldwide total of $853 million. This makes it the third highest-grossing film of 2023.