$325 million in American box office revenue, $949 million in worldwide revenue, 4,445,756 spectators in French theaters: Oppenheimer became this summer, in just a few weeks, the most lucrative biopic of the History. The success of the film, the reactions it provokes, behind the scenes of the Trinity Test… Director Christopher Nolan and his producer Emma Thomas return for AlloCiné on this extraordinary release.
A global success
Christopher Nolan (director): I’m not trying to explain it. I had my own hopes for the success of the film. He was much more than that. It was exciting to see. Sometimes all it takes is a surge of interest in a particular story or topic. It’s truly exciting to see audiences around the world embrace the film. And young people in particular, who come to see the film several times.
Emma Thomas (producer): Obviously, the success of the film has exceeded our wildest expectations. I think when the movie came out we were hoping that maybe it would do as well as Dunkirk. But he did double. It’s incredible. And I think the only thing I can really attribute that to is the fact that audiences were ready to see a film that challenged them. A film that is not content to be simple, pointless entertainment.
The impact on young spectators
I am very happy about it. When I told him what I wrote, one of my sons, who is a teenager, said to me: “Dad, you know, honestly, no one cares about this anymore. No one really cares anymore.”. And unfortunately, with the evolution of the geopolitical situation, a few years later, when this question was no longer asked and no one was asking this question, our fear of nuclear weapons returned, in a way that should never have disappeared, because guns don’t disappear.
Entertainment is a strange word to use with a serious subject, but it is entertainment
And I think that young people, in particular, have found material to engage in a story that is very important. And yet, they don’t know much about it. For a filmmaker, this is a great opportunity. I wouldn’t say to educate, but to engage, to try to tell the story in an exciting way, where we feel the importance of the story because it’s presented to us in a way very dramatic. And that’s really what I wanted to do. Entertainment is a strange word to use with a serious subject, but it is entertainment. It’s about commitment. It’s about giving people a compelling story.
This summer proved that there is always an audience who, if you offer them something that interests them, will go see it
I think Chris always makes films that provoke and engage. We have often found that people return to watch his films again and again. But I have to say that Oppenheimer seemed very different to me in terms of the level of commitment. For example, I was dropping my kid off at college, and the people sitting at the next table were talking about the movie. And I was a little embarrassed… Fortunately, they were very positive! (laughs) The next day I was on the train and I heard other people talking about it, which had never happened to me before. I have never felt this level of excitement or engagement with a film. It’s an amazing feeling because we’ve heard so much about the supposed death of the theatrical experience. This summer has proven that there is always an audience who, if you offer them something that interests them, will go see it.
Le Trinity Test
One of my first conversations about the film, after the script was completed, was with Andrew Jackson, my visual effects supervisor. She was the first person I showed the script to after Emma Thomas, because I knew it would take a lot of time for her to do what I was going to ask of her. That is to say, carry out the Trinity Test without synthetic images.
The Trinity Test must have been absolutely magnificent, but also dangerous.
I already used CG for a nuclear explosion at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, and they did a really good job. Synthetic images are a very versatile technology, but they give a feeling of security. While the Trinity Test must have been absolutely magnificent, but also dangerous in equal measure. And I think that only analog imagery, only things in the real world that you can photograph, whether they’re tiny things or gigantic things, but we could photograph, have a biting and menacing quality to them. And it was very important to me that the Trinity Test carried that sense of danger.
When I watch the film and this scene, I get sucked into the moment.
It was a very complex scene, very difficult to shoot because we were shooting in the middle of the desert, in a very large area. And when you’re shooting in a place like that, you have a lot of trucks that you have to hide. And then there was the rain, the wind… The wind was terrible that night. In fact, we even thought about not being able to tour. So there were a lot of practical considerations that made things very difficult. But when I watch the movie and that scene, I get sucked into the moment and forget all that. Which speaks, I think, to the quality of the scene.
A resonance with the present
With everything going on in the world, I think unfortunately the story has a relevance and resonance that maybe it didn’t have a few years ago. But that’s precisely what we wanted to achieve, because I think we got to this point where we sort of took peace and security for granted and forgot that we had these terrible weapons. We absolutely must be aware of this and never forget that we have it, because the threat persists.
Heading to the Oscars?
That’s definitely not why we made this film. This has no influence on the way we make films. Besides, we make blockbusters that come out in the summer, which is not very strategic for the awards season. But of course, the respect that would be given to you by your peers, by other filmmakers or others, that’s the greatest honor you could ask for. Don’t get me wrong, it would be fabulous to win prizes. But no, we are making the film for the audience above all. We try to do what’s best for the film itself and to bring it to the general public.
Comments collected in Los Angeles by Emmanuel Itier & Didier Allouch