Christopher Nolan Wrote ‘Oppenheimer’ Script in First Person as Oppenheimer, Including Stage Directions: ‘I’ve Never Done That Before’

Christoper Nolan revealed to Empire magazine that he did something during the development of “Oppenheimer” that he’s never done before in more than two decades of making movies: He wrote a script in the first person.

“There’s the idea of how we get in somebody’s head and see how they were visualizing this radical reinvention of physics,” Nolan said. “One of the things that cinema has struggled with historically is the representation of intelligence or genius. It very often fails to engage people.”

When sending the finished “Oppenheimer” screenplay to his visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson, Nolan stressed to him that “we have to find a way into this guy’s head. We’ve gotta see the world the way he sees it, we’ve gotta see the atoms moving, we’ve gotta see the way he’s imagining waves of energy, the quantum world. And then we have to see how that translates into the Trinity test. And we have to feel the danger, feel the threat of all this somehow.”

“My challenge to him was, ‘Let’s do all these things, but without any computer graphics,’” Nolan said.

The majority of “Oppenheimer” is told from the perspective of the title character who led the Manhattan Project in creating the atomic bomb. He’s played by Cillian Murphy.

“I actually wrote in the first-person, which I’ve never done before,” Nolan said. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever done it before. But the point of it is, with the colour sequences, which is the bulk of the film, everything is told from Oppenheimer’s point of view — you’re literally kind of looking through his eyes.”

Nolan said that even the script’s character descriptions, setting details and stage directions were all written from the first person as Oppenheimer.

“Odd thing to do,” Nolan admitted. “But it was a reminder to me of how to shoot the film. It was a reminder to everybody involved in the project, ‘Okay, this is the point of view of every scene.’ I wanted to really go through this story with Oppenheimer; I didn’t want to sit by him and judge him. That seemed a pointless exercise. That’s more the stuff of documentary, or political theory, or history of science. This is a story that you experience with him — you don’t judge him. You are faced with these irreconcilable ethical dilemmas with him.”

As Variety , “Oppenheimer” will be Nolan’s first R-rated movie since 2002’s “Insomnia.” The film is also Nolan’s longest, with a runtime just shy of the three-hour mark. The director’s previous longest film, “Interstellar,”  ran 2 hours and 49 minutes. “Oppenheimer” is so long that its IMAX film stock runs 11 miles long and weighs 600 pounds.

“Oppenheimer” opens in theaters July 21 from Universal Pictures.

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