Director Christopher Nolan is known for making well-regarded big-budget movies, and, as mentioned in my TENET review, after a very long collaboration between him and Hans Zimmer, Ludwig Göransson took over writing the music. Nolan apparently liked the music for TENET very much because the partnership between Göransson and Nolan continued on Nolan’s latest project, Oppenheimer.
Each Nolan movie has an interesting story. Some are futuristic, like Interstellar and Inception, but he has also explored the past with the World War II movie Dunkirk. Oppenheimer is his second historical movie, and it is about the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the project that built the first atomic bomb. What makes Oppenheimer a unique Nolan movie is that it is more about Oppenheimer himself and the people he has been involved with during his life instead of the usual action sequences from previous movies, which is reflected in the music. Instead of bold sounds, as has been done for previous Nolan movies, the music Göransson composed for Oppenheimer is more intimate and delicate, with a strong focus on only a small group of strings, some piano, and many synthetic sounds to enhance the mood.
There are themes to be found in the film music. They are subtle and not that easy to recognize, but they worked quite well in the movie. There is one for Oppenheimer, containing only a couple of tones, which can be heard on many occasions, including in the first track, “Fission,” and the last track, “Oppenheimer,” on the album. His theme is predominantly played by only a single violin. His wife also has a thematic idea, which is more of a chord progression on the piano. You can find this progression in “Meeting Kitty” and “Kitty Comes to Testify.”
Each track on the album is a wonderful standalone piece that perfectly sets the mood for the corresponding scene. Some of them contain gorgeous melodies representing the beauty of science, as can be heard in “Can You Hear the Music,” “Quantum Mechanics” and “Gravity Swallows Light.” Because the movie is about the scientist and not the atomic bomb, you do not see the bombing of the Japanese cities that killed over 200,000 people. However, the bomb is tested, and it can be seen with a long build-up time to the ignition, something that has been brilliantly scored by Göransson in “Trinity.”
As someone who likes a soundtrack to be very melodic, preferably with lots of recognizable theme integration, I would have expected not to enjoy the music for Oppenheimer very much. On the contrary, I kept returning to the score, especially after seeing the movie. I think the soundtrack Göransson wrote for the film is a perfect fit for the story of such an important person in our history, and it is definitely worth a listen. The music for Oppenheimer is the result of another fruitful collaboration between Christopher Nolan and Ludwig Göransson, and it makes me wonder what they will come up with for a potential future project.
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The highlights are in bold.
- Fission (4:38)
- Can You Hear the Music (1:50)
- A Lowly Shoe Salesman (3:34)
- Quantum Mechanics (3:00)
- Gravity Swallows Light (3:30)
- Meeting Kitty (5:47)
- Groves (3:03)
- Manhattan Project (3:01)
- American Prometheus (2:37)
- Atmospheric Ignition (3:28)
- Los Alamos (2:38)
- Fusion (3:55)
- Colonel Pash (4:57)
- Theorists (3:14)
- Ground Zero (4:21)
- Trinity (7:52)
- What We Have Done (5:45)
- Power Stays in the Shadows (4:10)
- The Trial (5:32)
- Dr. Hill (4:23)
- Kitty Comes to Testify (4:52)
- Something More Important (3:25)
- Destroyer of Worlds (2:54)
- Oppenheimer (2:16)
Total length: 1 hour and 34 minutes
Back Lot Music (2023)