Propelled by the Barbenheimer internet phenomenon, Christopher Nolan’s unique brand as a director and an enormous A-List cast, “Oppenheimer” became one of the most successful movies of the year, smashing several box office records. It became the highest-grossing biopic of all time and the third-highest-grossing movie of the year. It has also received numerous critical accolades and is set to receive even more as awards season gets closer

This doesn’t mean the film has been without criticisms. Chief among them is how the film chooses not to portray any of the Japanese victims of the atomic bomb. An estimated 200,000 Japanese people died from the bomb. In an LA Times article, director Spike Lee pointed out, “It’s not like he [Nolan] didn’t have power. He tells studios what to do.” Nolan certainly could have included this if he wanted to. But he was explicit that he did not. 

In order to criticize a movie, it is important to analyze the story it is trying to tell, the themes it encompasses and whether or not the movie accomplishes what it sets out to do. It is fair to criticize a movie for the themes it chooses to use to tell its story. It’s also fair to dislike what a movie is trying to do. But it is unfair to critique a movie’s narrative for not being something it never set out to be. Nolan was clear from the start that the story of the Japanese victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is an entirely different story from the one “Oppenheimer” was telling. 

To not show the victims of the bombings was a deliberate choice on Nolan’s part. The film completely immerses us in Oppenheimer’s head from beginning to end. We never see the victims because Oppenheimer doesn’t want to see them himself as shown by the scene where, upon pictures of the victims being shown on a projector, Oppenheimer looks away, leaving the images unseen to the audience as well. Throughout the film, there is a deliberate disconnect between Oppenheimer and the consequences of his actions. He concerns himself more with the big-picture implications of creating a weapon that has the ability to destroy the world rather than the very real trauma and tragedy it has already caused until confronted with it. 

“Oppenheimer” is the story of a group of powerful white men going too far and not thinking about the consequences of their actions until it’s too late. Oppenheimer himself is so focused on the idea of the bomb that he spares little thought for what the bomb, in reality, will be. Once it is done, he embraces being an American hero and sticks his head in the sand to spare himself from the more gruesome part of the reality he has created. 

As Nolan draws us further into the mind of Oppenheimer, we are immersed into the whitewashed narrative Oppenheimer constructs for himself. That is, until the third act, when Oppenheimer is forced to confront what he’s done in a devastating turn of events. Structurally, a parallel on the suffering of the victims of the atomic bomb does not fit into the narrative Nolan constructed. It would take us out of Oppenheimer’s perspective and the specific story the movie is telling.

It is also worth noting that any light shone on the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have inevitably played second string to the main storyline of Oppenheimer. In a movie that is already over three hours, another plotline would have only convoluted things further. It would also feel disrespectful to the victims to have their stories exist on the margin of a story largely centered around Oppenheimer. Would showing brutal footage of Japanese civilians screaming and running for their lives as the bomb dropped make the biopic better, or would it have been mere shock value? The latter seems more likely.

However, what also needs to be considered is what a massive hit “Oppenheimer” is. It will no doubt be the only film they will ever see about the Hiroshima bombings. A Christopher Nolan film is one which people will line up to see on the basis of his name alone. In contrast, Hollywood isn’t exactly rushing to give Japanese and Japanese-American filmmakers $100 million dollars to show the other side of the story. 

It is easy and obvious to say that directors should have full control over the narrative of their films — but they don’t. Studios and executives, for better or worse, have a say over the final cut. Hollywood is an institution that has functioned as the public relations arm of the American government for almost as long as Tinseltown has existed. It has taken multiple difficult, sobering and true stories and garnished them with several creative liberties and presented this on a platter to an audience which rarely tries to look deeper. 

Though many will treat it as such, “Oppenheimer” shouldn’t be seen as an all-encompassing chronicle of nuclear weapons. Rather, it should encourage us to seek out the marginalized perspective because it exists without being breathed into life by white creators. Beyond Hollywood, the Japanese film industry has been making films from the perspective of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for seventy years, with Studio Ghibli’s “Grave of the Fireflies” being one particular standout alongside countless others. 

Good cinema encourages us to be more curious, to engage with the nuanced and complex realities it presents and to find the perspective beyond it. If audiences become more willing to do this after seeing “Oppenheimer,” then all the better.