Renowned composer Ludwig Göransson, who has received Oscars and Grammys, discusses his experience scoring Christopher Nolan’s ambitious film “Oppenheimer.”
For “Oppenheimer,” a sprawling epic tracing the journey of J. Robert Oppenheimer (portrayed by Cillian Murphy) as the enigmatic “father of the atomic bomb,” Nolan enlisted the talents of Ludwig Göransson, who had previously collaborated on “Tenet.” The director was confident that Göransson was the perfect fit for this demanding task. A Christopher Nolan film is known for its vast IMAX imagery, stellar ensemble, extended shots, precise compositions, nonlinear storytelling, and, of course, a powerful soundtrack.
“The film’s score grew very organically and very gradually from the smallest elements. I had no preconceptions about the music for the film,” shares Nolan. “And in this case, all I had that I gave Ludwig was the idea of basing the score on the violin. There’s a tension to the sound in a way that I think fits the highly-strung intellect and emotion of Robert Oppenheimer very well.”
Göransson adds, “Chris is with me every step of the way. He meets every moment of this process with so much conviction — he has these deeply thoughtful, very specific ideas of how he wants every scene to feel, and yet, he is wonderfully collaborative and open.”
Scoring “Oppenheimer” presented a completely different challenge for Göransson compared to “Tenet,” as the biographical drama chronicling the Manhattan Project transcends traditional genres and encompasses elements of a gripping thriller, an unconventional biopic, a devastating horror film, and a haunting love story.
“I grew up in Sweden, where we have a very different relationship with nuclear weapons than we do in the U.S.,” explains Göransson. “Although the entire world knows the devastation the Manhattan Project’s success led to, I’m not sure that most people, or at least people of my generation, are aware of how much this story has shaped each of our lives the way they will after seeing Oppenheimer. Finding my way through that was pretty tough.”
Göransson is no stranger to daunting projects, having met Ryan Coogler at USC and scoring all of Coogler’s films, earning an Oscar for “Black Panther.” He began his journey by composing for the NBC series “Community,” where he befriended Donald Glover. Subsequently, he produced all four Childish Gambino albums, including the Grammy-winning “This Is America.” Additionally, he received an Emmy for scoring “The Mandalorian,” leaving him just a Tony away from achieving an EGOT. Despite his impressive resume, Göransson was apprehensive about composing for such a mammoth movie.
“I must admit that when I initially read the script and grasped the vast terrain that Oppenheimer would engulf, I felt overwhelmed. However, when I saw the first visuals, something started to click, revealing a path that led me and Chris to some interesting discussions and destinations. Some of the ideas took time to execute, but we were fortunate to have an incredible group of musicians who were open and dedicated to the project,” says Göransson.
“In the end,” he continues, “we recorded music that surpassed what I believed to be humanly possible. The perplexing visuals of spinning atoms drove forty violins into a breathtaking frenzy, while courtroom scenes were scored with the intensity of a battlefield. The music’s extreme dynamic shifts, traveling from the depths of an intimately personal journey to the brink of utter destruction, are drastic, disorientating, and jarring.”
Released on 21st July, audiences witness “Oppenheimer” unfold on the big screen withGöransson’s score undoubtedly elevating the film’s impact, adding another layer of depth to Nolan’s already immersive storytelling. The collaboration between these two brilliant minds has achieved a remarkable synergy, making “Oppenheimer” a cinematic experience that will be etched in the hearts and minds of viewers for years to come.
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