Christopher Nolan explains why Oppenheimer switches between black-and-white and color

Cillian Murphy
(Image credit: UPI)

Christopher Nolan's next film, Oppenheimer, focuses on the titular scientist, who is considered the father of the atomic bomb. Cillian Murphy is front and center as the man himself, backed by an all-star cast – but one thing that has caught everyone's attention is the trailers switching between full colour and black and white, harkening back to 2000's Memento

There have been plenty of theories regarding how and why exactly the film is split like this. Many believe that the color sequences take place before the detonation of the bomb, with the black-and-white scenes taking place afterwards (such as the court scenes with Robert Downey Jr.'s character Lewis Strauss) – a metaphor for how the creation of the atomic introduced a new chapter for our world.

Speaking to Total Film magazine in the new issue, which features Oppenheimer on the cover and is out on newsstands on May 25, Nolan discussed why the colors shift, helping shed some light on these theories: "I wrote the script in the first person, which I'd never done before. I don't know if anyone has ever done that, or if that's a thing people do or not… The film is objective and subjective. The colour scenes are subjective; the black-and-white scenes are objective. I wrote the colour scenes from the first person. So for an actor reading that, in some ways, I think it'd be quite daunting."

What this means exactly? We will have to wait and find out, but it could indeed imply the above fan theory is correct.

Along with Murphy and Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Jack Quaid, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh, Alden Ehrenreich, Dane DeHaan, and David Dastmalchian have roles in the film. 

Oppenheimer is out in cinemas on July 21, 2023. This is just a snippet of our interview in the new issue of Total Film magazine, which features the Nolan epic on the cover. The magazine hits shelves this Thursday, May 25. Check out the covers below:

Total Film cover

(Image credit: Total Film)

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Total Film cover

(Image credit: TOTAL FILM)
Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.

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