I suppose it says something about me that in the summer of “Barbenheimer” I have absolutely no desire to go see “Barbie”… but I did want to see “Oppenheimer” And so, on a Sunday morning showing, I did.

It is a layered story, overtly about the Manhattan Project  and the unleashing of the bomb, and the undertow of political squabbling and machinations, twisted loyalties, and the American obsession about “loyalty” and the Red Peril. In the light of today’s political climate the role of Nazis as the ones who started out as the villains of the piece seems searingly ironic given the current fascistic white nationalist tendencies of certain twenty first century “conservative” American politicians. In the movie, the American callousness and even savagery when it comes to certain “patriotic” issues are alluded to and even glimpsed almost full-frontal but not quite – Oppenheimer’s address to the auditorium filled with almost maniacally gleeful people applauding the Hiroshima bomb is a moment which made me almost dizzy with appalled grief – Oppenheimer’s words of “The world will remember this day” are so utterly and devastatingly true, the world did, and has, but this crowd isn’t remembering it with pity and grief and remorse and horror. They are remembering it with triumph – they are sitting there with the shouts of “USA!USA!” which pepper so many political rallies. Truman’s words to Oppenheimer are just as instructive – that people won’t remember who BUILT the bomb, just who DROPPED it. Oh, *USA*. To this day the only nation on this planet to have actually used nukes against anyone… and remains PROUD of it.

We are not shown the impact of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their death and suffering only a statistic on paper being thrown in Oppenheimer’s face at his little sham hearing designed to discredit and silence him because he slighted a politician who could not forgive that slight. We’re shown Trinity, the test explosion, and honestly, I wanted to scream and cry. What we did that day we cannot undo and hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians paid for that achievement with their lives (yes yes. it “Saved lives”. It “brought our boys home”. What it did to Japan no longer interested America once it dropped the bombs. None of their business any more. And you have to cringe at the top brass removing Kyoto from the list of targets because it is sucha “pretty city” and also because “my wife and I honeymooned there”. God forbid that the atomic bomb should annihilate a pretty city where an American general and his wife began their married lives together. Pick an ugly city that the general has never been to, like Hiroshima.)

There are criticisms I have seen levelled at the movie – that it took liberties with things said or done, that it reduced the role of women to Kitty Oppenheimer and her descent into domestic alcoholic madness, and Oppie’s lover Jean Tatlock the communist sympathiser who apparently didn’t like flowers and who got to show her boobs in what is almost a completely gratuitous sex scene during which the famous words of “I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds” is uttered while both participants are unclothed and engaging in nefarious and possibly unsanctioned sexual activity thus rendering those words sacrilegious in context where the Hindu faith and culture are concerned (but taking those words out of context and planting them in that self same gratuitous sex scene is probably a bad cinematic choice even without the layer of sacrilege involved…). But there are also moments of real power. And the final scene – although it is supposedly wholly fictional – damn near took my breath away and as a closing line it is one that I will not forget in a hurry. People latch onto the oddest tiny details – apparently the American flags waved at Los Alamos had the wrong number of stars on them for the period, but seriously, you’ve just witnessed the rise of the first mushroom cloud (and I saw this in IMAX, trust me, the mushroom cloud MAKES ITS PRESENCE FELT) and instead of catching your breath and contemplating the meaning of that you’re COUNTING STARS ON PROP FLAGS being waved by extras in the background of a scene? You may be in the wrong movie altogether because the main conceit of it is clearly not enough to hold your attention. Think instead about the wave of patriotism that is behind the most murderous thing that the human race has ever invented and all the pretty flags being waved to celebrate it. And then go again to that scene of Oppenheimer’s “this day will be remembered” address. The adulation has not faded if anything it’s grown in pitch and enthusiasm. Now it isn’t just a successful test blast. This time it’s for a real bomb, which was dropped on a real city (but not pretty Kyoto), killing real people (but “them” not  “us”).

It’s a frightening movie, but not entirely for the obvious reasons. I mean yes, there is the bomb, and what was done with it, and all the consequences that came after, and the possibilities that still loom out there today. But in some ways it is far more scary to watch the unfolding of a petty grudge filled mind full of personal vindictiveness and used with every possible intent to cause damage, to take vengeance, to destroy “them” because they slighted “us” and in one sense Oppenheimer the modern Prometheus released the nuclear genie on a real physical plane but there were those who were pouring nuclear napalm on a more subtle, personal level, leaving his own life a scorched ground.

The fact that I am alive in a “Destroyer of Days” era (time and place) was brought home in this movie. And not only because it dropped a literal nuclear bomb in the narrative (although… dude… they TRUCKED A NUKE across America’s back roads in two wooden crates? Really? REALLY?). We live in perilous times. As in that final conversation, about the possibility of burning up the atmosphere, of destroying our planet and all life on it… perhaps we already did. We just don’t know it yet.