The biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin served as the inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s film “Oppenheimer.” However, the renowned director objects to the term “biopic.” During a panel discussion at City University of New York, Nolan expressed his distaste for the word “biopic,” citing the inability of a film to fully capture a person’s life. This was reported by Variety. He believes that attempting to depict a person’s entire life in a film will unnecessarily trivialize it.
During a panel discussion at City University of New York, Nolan expressed his distaste for the word “biopic,” citing the inability of a film to fully capture a person’s life. This was reported by Variety. He believes that attempting to depict a person’s entire life in a film will unnecessarily trivialize it.
“There is a tendency in biography post-Freud to attribute characteristics of the person you’re dealing with to their genetics from their parents. It’s a very reductive view of a human being,” he remarked. “If you’re writing a book that’s 500 pages or 1,000 pages, there’s a way to balance that with their individuality and experiences. When you compress and strip down to the necessary simplicity of a screenplay, it’s incredibly reductive.”
Nolan continued by saying that while “Oppenheimer” only depicts a section of the individual’s life, he does not consider it to be a biopic. In his opinion, the movie is more akin to a courtroom drama or a heist cinema. “This is where the concept of a biopic fails you completely as a genre,” he further elaborated on his point. “It’s not a useful genre. I love working in useful genres. In this film … it’s the heist film as it applies to the Manhattan Project and the courtroom drama as it applies to the security hearings. It’s very useful to look at the conventions of those genres and how they can pull the audience and how they can give me communication with the audience.”
In conclusion, Nolan stated that he believed genuinely outstanding biographical films are seen by the public as belonging to more specialized genres and surpassing the biopic category. “Biopic is something that applies to a film that is not quite registering in a dramatic fashion,” he said. “You don’t talk about ‘Laurence of Arabia’ as a biopic. You don’t talk about ‘Citizen Kane’ as a biopic. It’s an adventure film. It’s a film about somebody’s life. It’s not a useful genre the same way drama is not a useful genre. It doesn’t give you anything to hold onto.”