Oppenheimer (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Barbie or Oppenheimer: which did you see first in summer 2023? If the Mark Ronson-helmed Barbie soundtrack presented a technicolor lineup of some of the biggest names in pop, the music of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is fittingly dark-hued and crafted by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. In the 1940s, the American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer gave the world the means to destroy all life in the terrifying form of the atomic bomb. In Oppenheimer, Nolan dives deep into the scientist’s struggle with the ethics of his deadly creation—and the unsettling onscreen psychodrama is only intensified by the music here. Göransson’s symphonic score combines mantralike rhythmic repetition, nerve-shredding tempo changes, keening violin melodies, and moments of intense beauty, a mix that grabs and holds the attention when consumed as a free-standing artwork. Göransson catches the mystical qualities of quantum physics in the album’s opening sequence, interleaving the floating worlds of “Fission” and “Gravity Swallows Light” with reflective interludes linked to Oppenheimer’s life. Later, the composer distills the bleak landscape of the A-bomb’s 1945 “Ground Zero” test site into a chilling weave of electronic pulsations, white noise, and ticks taken from dosimeter radiation readings. There’s a primordial menace to tracks such as “Los Alamos” and “Colonel Pash”—the former underpinned by a manic rhythmic riff, the latter projected by unearthly electronics and desiccated melodic lines—which flows into Göransson’s final melancholy portrait of Oppenheimer.