Christopher Nolan says he’s ready to move on from his ‘important’ but ‘dark’ movie ‘Oppenheimer’

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Director Christopher Nolan and producer Emma Thomas talk with Yahoo Entertainment’s Kevin Polowy about the importance of their movie, “Oppenheimer,” respond to filmmaker and critic Spike Lee’s comments on the film, and say they are ready to move on from such a ‘dark and nihilistic’ topic.

Video Transcript

KEVIN POLOWY: I remember at CinemaCon, you said J Robert Oppenheimer was the most important person who ever lived. By extension, would you consider this the most important film you've ever made?

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: You know I said that about Oppenheimer because he changed the world, irreversibly. For that reason alone he becomes, to me, the most important individual figure in history. I made this film because that story seemed incredibly important. But if there's a resonance beyond that about nuclear weapons, about the dangers of the world in which we live, then, yes. I mean, I suppose that's an added element to this film that isn't present in my other films, yeah.

KEVIN POLOWY: You know, You've heard critics, even somebody who's notable as Spike Lee, saying he would have shown the Japanese perspective or would have shown the destruction. How do you-- how do you react when you hear those critiques?

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: Spike Lee's one of my idols. And for him to say that he thought Oppenheimer was a great film, that was the bit I focused on. I was really--

KEVIN POLOWY: Understandably.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: No, no, no. I was-- I was just blown away by it. And he was very specific and respectful in what he was saying, that he would have done a particular thing because he's a different filmmaker. And different filmmakers interpret things differently. So I honestly was just thrilled that he got something out of the movie.

EMMA THOMAS: When I looked at what he said was kind of perfect. He just talked about the film that he would have made. And that's always really fascinating to me, is the ways in which different directors take a sub-- a subject matter and sort of do different things with it.

Chris was very clear from the beginning that he wanted to tell this story from the point of view of J Robert Oppenheimer himself, to the extent that he even wrote the script in the first person. And the way Oppenheimer receives the information about what's done with his invention is exactly as it happened in real life. He heard about it on the radio, just like the rest of America.

And so it was-- so the way Chris told the story was very true to what happened in real life and also the way he set out to make it.

KEVIN POLOWY: How do you decompress from an experience like this, dealing with such a weighty subject matter? I mean, is there a part of you part of you that just wants to go write a light romantic comedy after this?

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: I definitely-- part of me wants to leave the story behind. I mean, you know, it's a great privilege to be able to talk about a film that you've made that's now going into the home and on 4k and Blu-ray and all the rest. It's great to be able to sit here and talk to you about the success of the movie. That's a huge privilege. But the subject matter is very dark. It's nihilistic. And, yeah, there's part of me that's quite keen to move on and maybe do something, you know, not quite as bleak.

EMMA THOMAS: Yeah, do you feel like telling this story, there's almost sort of an activism to the film to sort of remind people what it's sort of like, what a thin line we sort of rest that on. Is it culture that-- with these weapons existing?

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: Well, when I first spoke to my 16-year-old son about the subject matter I was taking on, he actually said to me a couple of years ago, he's like, well, nobody really worries about that anymore. That's not really a thing on people's radar. And I did say to him at the time, well, maybe that's a reason to make the film.

And, sadly, with the changes in the world over the intervening years, he's not asking that question anymore. No one's asking that question anymore. People are very aware of the dangers.

I think that movies have to be, for me first and foremost, and it's a strange word to use with this subject matter. But they have to be entertainment. They have to be engagement, whether or not it's a horror movie, or a romantic comedy, whatever it is. It's about engaging the audience and giving them a story that's very compelling.

I think with Oppenheimer, my hope was that the seriousness of the subject matter would resonate beyond the story, beyond the actual dramatic experience of watching the film. But I feel that if, as a filmmaker, I'm too self-conscious about that, or trying to tell people what to think, or be didactic, that tends to put people off. They feel that effort. And I feel that effort in films sometimes. And you're less receptive actually, ironically, to whatever the intentions of the filmmaker might be.

So to me, it's really about engaging the audience in a great story. And then, hopefully, if I've done my job right, there'll be resonances beyond that, that maybe.