New on The Fourth Wall: The Killer! Thoughts on Oppenheimer!

Hello folks! Check out the most recent entry on The Fourth Wall, covering David Fincher’s lastest film, The Killer. Next up: Past Lives and Perfect Days. 

Oscar season has come and gone, and the Best Picture winner (Oppenheimer) is pretty much Exhibit A for why your humble narrator doesn’t pay much attention to film awards. As an aside, it’s been my recent experience that whenever I’m in a crowded theater where people are clapping at the end (as I was in Oppenheimer), I am the one person not clapping. I wish I were kidding. My tastes in recent years has definitely run in the opposite direction from “grandiose, sweeping biopics,” but I had plenty of other issues with this film:

1) The background score. One of the elements that I find a bit jarring about old movies is the way that filmmakers would hammer home emotional messages with majestic scores. Not quite the equivalent of a laugh track, but… not my cup of tea. (Music is essential to horror/action genres, but I prefer my dramas unadulterated — preferably with nothing but diegetic sound. I wrote a bit about it here earlier this year.)

Anyway, with Oppenheimer, there was a double whammy. To this writer’s ears, the music was not only intrusive, but overwhelming to the point where I would miss huge chunks of dialogue! How did anyone fully understand this film without subtitles? The frustration led me to mentally check out at an early stage. It’s gratifying to know that I wasn’t the only one with this issue.

2) Perhaps related to #1, I got lost in the sea of characters. To this day, I don’t remember anyone’s name other than the title scientist. And I don’t even recall any other folks in the film, outside of his two love interests (again, whose names escape me) and the Matt Damon military figure (ditto). I sat through a three-hour film and pretty much only remembered the big test explosion, and snippets of him being grilled by government wonks.

3) I feel like I’ve seen “Red Scare” stories before… many, many times. So, that part of the film held little interest for me. And in any event, there’s no tension, since we all know how things will play out. It’s an issue with any recent biopic, such as Spotlight, which won a zillion awards but left me mildly bored, because the resolution was never in doubt.

4) Do scientists lead exciting lives, worthy of Hollywood productions? Is it possible to make real-life science entertaining? Science is tedium. Endless research. Experimentation. I would’ve much rather seen a documentary about Oppenheimer, especially one focused on thoughts involving the use of nuclear weapons. We got a brief taste of it in this film, but only a smidgen. What was the global reaction to the use of atomic bombs in Japan? The internal debate among our nation’s political/military leaders? Oppenheimer’s own views? I would’ve loved a roundtable about all this, but that would’ve been a different film, I suppose.

Again… I’m in the minority! But I simply am looking for different things from my storytelling than what was provided here.

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Kevin Fullam is a writer and researcher, with extensive experience in fields ranging from sports analytics to politics and cinema.
In addition, he has hosted two long-running radio series on film and culture, and taught mass media at Loyola University.
Episodes of his two shows, Split Reel and Under Surveillance, are archived on the Radio page.