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How Robert Pattinson Helped Inspire Christopher Nolan to Make Oppenheimer On Set of Tenet

Turns out Tenet played a role in getting Oppenheimer made.

By Josh Weiss
Oppenheimer Trailer

"Are we saying there's a chance that when we push that button, we destroy the world?" asks General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) in the most recent trailer for Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer. "The chances are near zero," replies J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy).

Not a very reassuring answer, but there was a lingering concern about whether the Manhattan Project's first detonation in July 1945 would accidentally ignite the atmosphere and destroy all life on our planet. "I actually don't remember when I first got hooked by the notion of, you know, they might destroy the world," Nolan remarked to Empire for the magazine's July 2023 issue.

RELATED: Christopher Nolan Explains the 'Odd' Choice to Write Oppenheimer in First-Person

Nevertheless, the filmmaker's interest in the topic found its way into his last movie — 2020's Tenet — during a walk and talk between The Protagonist (John David Washington) and arms dealer Dimple Kapadia (Priya Singh), in which the latter compares the creation of the mysterious Algorithm (a device capable of reversing the flow of time) to the development of the first atomic bomb.

While Nolan had yet to lock in Oppenheimer as his next project, the notion took root in his brain and began to grow, as though planted there by Inception's Dominic Cobb.

"This idea that these guys did this calculation, and couldn't eliminate the possibility that they'd set fire to the atmosphere and destroy the whole world," he explained. "But they had to go ahead and do the Trinity test anyway. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, which was really what Tenet was about. In dealing with that, I then became interested in looking at that story, not as analogy for a science fiction concept, but for its own sake because it is just so irresistibly dramatic."

What helped push Nolan over the edge was a book of Oppenheimer's speeches given to him by Tenet star Robert Pattinson (Neil). The content within painted an existential portrait of "a new world in which this terrible power exists, and trying to figure out how, geopolitically, the world could deal with it, what the consequence was going to be, when it was absolutely new and fresh."

This ultimately led the writer-director down a path to American Prometheus, the massive, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography about the life and career Oppenheimer (written by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin) upon which the film is based.

As though the future was suddenly catching up with the past, Tenet-style, Nolan realized his next movie would represent a "provocative statement" about the father of the atomic bomb: "He's most important man who ever lived. Whether you like it or not."

Oppenheimer sets the world on fire July 21. Click here for tickets!

Jonesing for another thriller based on true events? A Friend of the Family is now streaming on Peacock.