Christopher Nolan Explains One of ‘Oppenheimer’s Most Disturbing Scenes

“The whole film is about consequences,” the filmmaker says

Cillian Murphy in "Oppenheimer" (Credit: Universal Pictures)

While the Trinity Test is certainly the centerpiece of Christopher Nolan’s three-hour epic “Oppenheimer,” there’s a moment that follows the detonation of the nuclear bomb that echoes the test sequence in disturbing ways. Cillian Murphy’s J. Robert Oppenheimer addresses residents of Los Alamos to inform them that the bomb has successfully been dropped on Hiroshima, but the sound of the roaring crowd drops out, only to return moments later — just like the delayed sound of the bomb blast during the Trinity Test.

Nolan, who wrote and directed the film, said the parallels between the two sequences are certainly intentional.

“The whole film is about consequences,” Nolan told Vulture. “The delayed onset of consequences that people often forget — the film is full of different representations of that. Some visceral, some more narrative.”

The speech that Oppenheimer gives during that moment, and the visions he has of a young child with her face melting off (played by Nolan’s actual daughter), was the “Dunkirk” filmmaker’s way of tackling the guilt that Oppenheimer felt after the completion of the bomb.

“As I immersed myself in Oppenheimer’s story, what I eventually came to is the realization that even though he never specifically apologized for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his actions the night after the bombing were the actions of somebody truly possessed by guilt, truly possessed by a desire to undo what he had done,” he said. “So I felt that in the telling, I wanted to be true to my interpretation of the interior turmoil he must have felt, how that would’ve manifested itself.”

Editor Jennifer Lame, who also worked with Nolan on “Tenet,” told Vulture that it took a bit to get the sequence just right in terms of echoing the Trinity Test.

“It took a while to make those two feel a pair with each other. It’s such a fine line between just making them the same rather than making them feel they speak to each other,” she said, calling the speech the “evil stepsister to Trinity in a way, sound-wise, in the way we cut it.”

It’s a striking sequence that leads into the final act of the film, which is garnering praise from critics and audiences alike. Indeed, “Oppenheimer” just racked up a huge second weekend at the box office and is showing no signs of slowing down.