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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Watching Oppenheimer In Kharkiv, Where Atomic Angst Hits Too Close To Home

From her local cinema in northeast Ukraine, the author reflects on how watching Christopher Nolan's biopic, about the father of the atomic bomb, takes a very ominous and actual tone.

The movie Oppenheimer being projected on the screen at a cinema

Christopher Nolan's latest movie echoes present nuclear threats

Universal Pictures/Worldcrunch montage
Viktoriia Grivina

Following the recent release of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer continues to infuse summer 2023 with atomic energy. Stylistically, of course, the two couldn’t be more different. What Anderson shows as a blast outside a diner’s window that doesn’t so much as interrupt the characters’ coffee, Nolan shapes into a three-hour epic. And as a Ukrainian, I am grateful for that.

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While daily life in the war-time state constantly fluctuates between feeling like a farce and a Greek tragedy, Oppenheimer emphasises the real level of the threat – something I often feel western Europe and the wider world don’t fully grasp.

Nolan’s Greek tragedy is the world that I live in. Watching Oppenheimer from my local cinema in Kharkiv I hope that – to a smaller degree – a global audience will experience Ukraine’s everyday anxiety too.

Nolan’s use of sound is what makes his take different from the many other Oppenheimer biopics. So much so that I would see it in the cinema again, purely to focus on how various pieces of music, noises and silences guide the viewer’s attention.

As my seat shakes from the stereo effects, nobody in the nearly full cinema flinches. The teenagers to my right are as used to explosions as J. Robert Oppenheimer himself. The moments of silence (a Nolan trademark) however, feel ominous.

Unsurprisingly, explosions sounds are a leitmotif of the film too.

It is said that you will never hear “your” missile – the one that kills you. Locals in Kharkiv use this wisdom to calm our nerves after hearing a loud explosion. As we sit through the nearly three-hour film, our only wish is not to hear the bomb siren sound outside, since it would mean we would have to leave the cinema and go to the underground shelter.

Granted that in a city so close to the border, shelters aren’t of much use. It takes about 30 seconds for an S-300 missile to fly from the nearby Russian town of Belgorod, meaning we often hear the siren after the blast. Unsurprisingly, explosions sounds are a leitmotif of the film too, making its soundscape very relatable.

Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy on the set of Oppenheimer\u200b

Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy on the set of Oppenheimer

Universal Pictures

What Nolan gets wrong

The overarching motif of Oppenheimer is a warning against the precarious reality that Ukrainians live in now. As one great scientist notes to Oppenheimer: “we now enter a new world”. The warning shapes the symphonic structure of the film which is, perhaps, the most mature of Nolan’s works.

I found the film’s depth of representation lacking.

Oppenheimer is true to Nolan’s greatest cinematic talents. But it speaks to his weaknesses as well. Oppenheimer’s children don’t get any screen time, but are shown through a nagging baby cry. The women fall similarly short of becoming real, depicted simply as dedicating their lives to Oppenheimer.

I appreciate Nolan not trying to crawl into someone else’s skin, instead opting to explore the perspective (that of a white, privileged man) he can personally empathize with. But as a viewer watching from the other side of nuclear anxiety, I found the film’s depth of representation lacking.

Nolan’s wide strokes, though powerful, miss detail. The USSR is called “Russia” and Soviet scientists are called “Russians” throughout the film. Watching it several kilometers from a Ukrainian lab where the first lithium atom in the USSR was split, this feels ironic.

The massive shelling of the nuclear research reactor by the Russian military in 2022 created an uproar in my local community precisely because so many people here have family and friends who work in physics. Ukraine’s nuclear research programme, which had been a subject of great pride, was now endangered. In painting all the scientists in the film as Russians, Oppenheimer ignores the work of historic Ukrainian physicists.

In the end, Oppenheimer is not a film about historical accuracy or justice, but rather a great emotional and sensory experience. And for a summer blockbuster, what more can we ask?

As I walk out of the cinema, the siren starts to roar, signaling that somewhere in the depth of Russia, a fighter jet carrying ballistic missiles has taken off, harmonious with the last scene of Nolan’s film.

I walk through the warm summer evening, feeling strangely more like a Wes Anderson character than a Nolan one. Perhaps, I think, if the explosion blasts behind my back, I won’t even drop my mint lemonade. Because I already live in the “new world” of dark nuclear absurdity – one that even Oppenheimer himself could not possibly have predicted.

Viktoriia Grivina, PhD Candidate, School of Modern Languages and Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews

This article is republished from The Conversationunder a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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