February 20, 2024

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Opinion | ‘Oppenheimer’ and the Siren Song of World-Ending Technology

26 min read

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email [email protected] with any questions.

carlos lozada

So we drove out to the Midwest for vacation. And so I was like, oh, we’ll just audiobook it. And between the drive back and forth, I barely had covered half of the book because it was like 27 hours or something ridiculous.

lydia polgreen

Wait, you subjected your family to the “Oppenheimer” audiobook?

carlos lozada

They loved it. Or they lied to me.

michelle cottle

Either way.

carlos lozada

Well, I mean, I read it when it came out. It’s like 17 years ago, so I mean, I don’t remember.

ross douthat

So once wasn’t enough.

carlos lozada

I just remember that it was great.

michelle cottle

Nerd.

ross douthat

Uh-huh.

carlos lozada

So I had to read it again.

ross douthat

Right, sure.

michelle cottle

Nerd! [MUSIC PLAYING]

ross douthat

From New York Times Opinion, I’m Ross Douthat.

michelle cottle

I’m Michelle Cottle.

carlos lozada

I’m Carlos Lozada.

lydia polgreen

And I’m Lydia Polgreen.

ross douthat

And this is “Matter of Opinion.”

So last week, Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” came out, and all four of us saw it.

carlos lozada

Not together.

ross douthat

Not together, except in spirit, but so did a lot of other people. The movie has already made more than 80 million bucks at the box office. Now, if you haven’t seen it, I don’t know that anything we’ll discuss is the biggest spoiler, given that the movie is based on extremely famous historical events, but we probably shouldn’t promise not to have any spoilers, right?

carlos lozada

Spoiler, the good guys won World War II.

ross douthat

Oh, well, that itself is a controversial statement, Carlos, but we’ll be talking about whether the movie is really about the good guys, what its moral vision is, what it says about when politics and potentially world ending science collide. But we’ll start with the basics. What did everybody think about the movie?

lydia polgreen

Silence.

ross douthat

Come on, come on. What did you — let’s hear it.

michelle cottle

I’m going to jump in.

carlos lozada

Fun family fair.

michelle cottle

I’m going to jump in. I thought the movie was spectacular. It’s obviously going to generate some controversy about whether they were too soft on communism or made Oppenheimer too much of a hero, but it was ambitious. It was, of course, gorgeous.

There were some weirder moments in it that are kind of Christopher Nolan’s forte, but on the whole, it took what was a sweeping, huge book, “American Prometheus.” It won the Pulitzer. It is well worth a read and really gives it a good narrative that drives you through what is an unacceptable three hours. No movie should be three hours. But this one was good enough that I didn’t start to fidget like a four-year-old until about 2 and 1/2 hours in, which is always a good sign.

lydia polgreen

Carlos, what did you think?

carlos lozada

I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t as troubled by the length because it sort of tells two stories. It tells the story of the race to design and test the atom bomb. And then it tells the story of how Oppenheimer was sort of cast aside by the very government that had deployed him for war-making purposes when he was no longer useful, when he became kind of an irritant. And I mean, those stories are woven together in the movie. So to me, since there was so much that was worth getting into, I wasn’t troubled by the length.

lydia polgreen

I didn’t think it was too long at all. I love a biopic. I love an epic book. I love an epic movie. I mean, the performances, I thought, were incredible. And I have to say, I was astonished by the box office numbers that so many people wanted to see this movie because I think most people who go to the movies during summer blockbuster season aren’t necessarily looking to be challenged in this way. But yeah, I found myself quite swept up with it.

ross douthat

Yeah, so the box office was remarkable. And since one of my big things is the decline and fall of the American movies and so on, I feel churlish saying anything negative about “Oppenheimer” because it is terrific that it did so well. And Nolan is terrific, and the cast was terrific. I wasn’t sure about the last hour of the movie. So it does this sort of — there’s sort of the central forward momentum narrative carrying you through the Manhattan Project, culminating in the big explosion, right, which comes about 2/3 of the way through the movie.

And then there’s the aftermath in the 1950s, which takes two forms. You follow both Oppenheimer through the sort of closed, unfair kangaroo court hearing where he loses his security clearance over his various ties to the many communists who were associated with his social and intellectual world in the 1930 and ‘40s. And then you also get the failed nomination to Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet of Lewis Strauss, played by Robert Downey, Jr., in a really terrific performance.

Strauss was a Republican hawk, and Oppenheimer famously became a critic of arms race politics. But so the movie is sort of culminating in Lewis Strauss not getting the Secretary of Commerceship. And you can see what Nolan is doing here, but honestly, to me, there was just a pretty big gap between the drama of the literal atomic bomb and the drama of Lewis Strauss’s cabinet nomination. And in the end, I felt like that was an artistic failure.

michelle cottle

I totally get your point, but in a blockbuster movie, you have to have a villain. And who are we going to make the villain in a movie like this? It’s a very complicated, weird subject. And you had to have an antagonist for Oppenheimer.

lydia polgreen

I actually disagree, and I think it’s actually a fascinating artistic choice because watching this movie, I thought, so much of it takes place in kind of the perfect setting for a film that is, in a lot of ways, about the professional managerial class. These dramas take place in these incredibly claustrophobic, bureaucratic, drab meeting rooms.

And the only reason that you know that this is an incredibly important proceeding is that you have this assaultive score that’s coming at you with these incredible strings playing. And I think that there is this symmetry that feels very real to me. I guess it’s a metaphorical symmetry between the very real destruction of the atomic bomb and the very real power of personal grudges and spite between members of the professional managerial class over petty politics and power. So to me, that felt like a central tension and storyline of the entire movie.

carlos lozada

I agree that that’s a critical element of this story. And in some ways, just as dramatic as the race to develop the bomb, you can imagine the movie focusing on the Trinity test and then on Oppenheimer’s transformation, and sort of an activist against the H-bomb worrying about what he had unleashed.

But the story is about how the government turns against him, how it found him dangerous. And something kind of remarkable is that I don’t know if you all saw the story, but just like last December of this past year, the Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, finally nullified the commission’s revoking of Oppenheimer’s security clearance, saying that it had been, as more information came out about what the hearing had been like and the unfairness of the process, that they just couldn’t stand by it.

michelle cottle

I like the fact that the book and the movie really drive home how confusing a political time this was. So like well before the bomb or the hearings, you had this whole concern about, on the one hand, the Nazis, and this is the major race you’re fighting off. But even before Oppenheimer was drafted for this project, just like so much churn about communism. And so you had these two competing tensions, and he almost didn’t wind up in charge of the project because of his relationships. I think people forget what just kind of a weird global time that was. And this does a really good job of just trying to drive home how much cloud there was around everything.

carlos lozada

Yeah, well, I mean, it feels weird to say this with a three-hour movie, but you’re struck by all the things that they kind of had to leave out. You see how, in the movie, he’s this kind of immediately charismatic professor at Berkeley, right? It starts with one student, and then suddenly it’s packed because he’s so captivating. He was actually a terrible teacher initially. He was unintelligible. He taught himself slowly to become a better teacher. And that cult of Oppie kind of grew up around him.

What Michelle mentions about the ferment of the moment is sort of even more alive in the book, even around physics. The movie kind of glosses over this because you don’t want to spend too much time on it, besides like, oh, look at all these cool formulas on a chalkboard, you know? But his genius was in helping others crystallize the ideas that they would pursue. And there’s a moment in the movie when I think the Matt Damon character, Groves, asks him, why he hasn’t won a Nobel Prize yet? Because everyone around him had Nobel’s. It’s super stressful when you’re like the one guy with no Nobel.

ross douthat

Tell me about it.

carlos lozada

And it’s that the Nobel’s were awarded for super specific, deep contributions to a particular field. And Oppenheimer was kind of interested in everything. He was too distracted for that. He was a great enabler and crystallizer of other people’s ideas.

ross douthat

I think one of the interesting things about that particular moment in physics and science, right, is that prior to World War II, prior to the Manhattan Project, there was still a way in which science was operating outside of what we now think of as kind of the American university model. It was much more European. There’s a really strong aristocratic vibe. And Oppenheimer himself is much — he’s rich, right? He’s a rich kid.

I’m not sure this is completely, completely conveyed in the movie, though it’s clear that he’s vacationing in New Mexico. Yeah, he basically puts the Manhattan Project where he likes to go for vacation, right? It would be like, if you were like, well, I really like this little town on the coast of Maine. Let’s build the atomic bomb there. And there are a couple local lobster fishermen, but they won’t object.

I guess I wonder what, as the resident reactionary, I thought the movie up till the sort of final 30 minutes was actually quite effective in making a case that maybe Oppenheimer, once the project was over, shouldn’t have a security clearance. I mean, I think the movie does a good job of portraying Oppenheimer as a very complicated, fairly unstable figure, someone who literally poisoned the apple of his professor while in graduate school, someone who was friends with tons of communists, ran a program that was successfully infiltrated by communists, apparently only had sex with either communists or ex-communists.

lydia polgreen

His brother was a communist, don’t forget.

ross douthat

His brother is a communist. The question is, should he have this security clearance? And the moment when Leslie Groves, played really well, as always, by Matt Damon, testifies and is asked based on the current Cold War era security guidelines, would Oppenheimer pass muster, and he has to say no, I mean, he’s right, isn’t he?

lydia polgreen

Yeah.

michelle cottle

Although I thought the line was great because he said, no, but under the current system, I’m not sure I would have cleared any of these guys, which kind of gets to the period where scientists didn’t automatically going to think of themselves as extensions of the political argument.

ross douthat

But it gets to the period where under the circumstances of a war against national socialism and imperial Japan, you have to say, yeah, if the best scientists are sort of compromised by associations with communism, it doesn’t matter. You have to have them in there. But then, once you’re in a Cold War environment with Soviet Russia, you probably wouldn’t run the Manhattan Project the same way.

lydia polgreen

I think that’s right, but I think that there’s also, to your point, Ross, there’s a sort of a noblesse oblige around Oppenheimer. And that, I think, goes hand in hand with another big theme of the book and the movie, which is his kind of naivete. You see him floating in this world of ideas and theory and communism and the Spanish Civil War as a romantic cause. And all of those things are true. But they’re all taking place in an environment that’s outside of hard politics and more in the realm of the theoretical.

And I think that what you’re seeing in the film is this, and actually in history, is this move towards a much harder and more concrete reality in which the people in this world actually have to deal with the consequences of theory. And it seemed that he saw losing his place in the establishment, the inner circle of decision making about what the future of the country should be, and how we should be dealing with these weapons, that it was a huge loss for him to lose his seat at the table inside. And he assigned basically zero value to the kind of moral mantle that he could and I think did pick up. It really gets at this kind of like professional managerial class and sort of noblesse oblige clashing.

ross douthat

Yeah, there’s a piece from Vox on that last point by Haydn Belfield that’s called “Crybaby Scientist” that basically is just a — if you want to read the most anti-Oppenheimer take in this movie environment, that’s the place to go. And Belfield basically argues a version of what you just said, Lydia, that this was a guy who imagined himself as this core decision-maker, but who basically invented the bomb and gave it to the national security state and then was totally unable to manage or master the forces that he’d unleashed, while maintaining his desire to be seen as someone who was the insider sort of steering the ship.

I think the piece is unfair to Oppenheimer in many ways, but it’s worth reading the strong anti-Oppenheimer take, which is also another question for you guys. There’s also been a lot of criticism of the movie from the left, arguing that it’s just too kind to Oppenheimer. It doesn’t spend enough time on the actual realities of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, once again, Americans whitewashing their own evils via Hollywood. What do you guys think of that critique?

michelle cottle

My response to that is my response to a lot of these things, which is that not every movie or every piece is about everything. So this was about Oppenheimer. You can focus it on that. I mean, we can have another three-hour biopic on what about the fallout in New Mexico. I mean, there’s been talk about it has ignored what happened with the people who were downwind of the Trinity test. Yes, all of these are like questions, but again, not every movie is about every piece of a puzzle.

carlos lozada

It’d have to be longer than three hours, Michelle. And you already oppose that, so.

michelle cottle

No, I object on moral principle to movies that are that long.

lydia polgreen

I think, first of all, it was a real choice not to portray or show anything from what actually happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was utter and total and complete devastation. And when I finished the movie, I took the subway home and then immediately read John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” which is an extraordinary book that really kind of gives you a sense of what took place there.

And I think at the end of the day, I actually think that the way that the movie handled it was probably right. It would have felt, I think, somewhat gratuitous to go outside of the narrative of the movie and have newsreel footage or something that sort of gestured at the kind of destruction that this bomb actually wrought. And I felt that the moment where he’s speaking to a cheering, flag waving crowd, and they’re stomping their feet at Los Alamos, excited and celebrating that they’ve won the war by dropping this bomb on what was arguably a largely defeated enemy, he sort of has this kind of moment of conscience and what have you.

So I think that was probably the right way to handle that. But the thing that was wild to me is there’s this moment where Oppenheimer says, sort of justifying the use of the bomb, that demonstrating the destruction of it will be so great that it’ll usher in the greatest peace that mankind has ever known. And in one regard, he was right in the sense that no one has ever deployed a nuclear weapon in a conflict situation since then. But in another way, we have not actually seen the greatest peace humankind has ever seen since then. So I don’t know. To me, that moment in the film really stuck with me.

ross douthat

Yeah, there’s a moment when I think they’re showing images from the actual atomic bombings are being shown. And I think you see Oppenheimer looking away from it. Right? So in a way, the movie is giving his perspective and his sort of showing that for all his guilt and so on and sort of nightmares, there’s sort of the nightmare scene that you referenced, Lydia, of the jeering crowd with the sort of undertones of atomic destruction underneath it. For all that, Oppenheimer is also sort of maybe refusing to see, right? The movie doesn’t show you because Oppenheimer himself does not want to fully see what he did.

carlos lozada

The authors make a distinction between Oppenheimer taking responsibility, like yes, he made this thing, but not feeling guilt over it. And I felt that that was somewhat portrayed in the movie. What I liked, Ross, about that moment you mentioned when Oppenheimer looks away is that you see the colleagues around him, they’re all flinching. They’re watching. And it’s it’s painful for them. But he sees something and then immediately looks away.

lydia polgreen

Well, and what’s also interesting is the justification, and I think actually, this has sort of become the conventional wisdom, was that even though Japan was on the verge of defeat, dropping the bomb saved lives, and you sort of see that in the amazing scene of Gary Oldman playing Harry Truman, sort of waving away the histrionic Oppenheimer saying he has blood on his hands.

So yes, I mean, I think this notion that ultimately dropping the bomb saved lives has become the kind of conventional wisdom. And “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb,” which is a very influential essay by Paul Fussell in “The New Republic,” which was published in 1981, I think really sort of articulates that view. But I also think one of the things about the legacy of the atomic world in which we live that nobody really ever talks about is the Cold War had real consequences, and the fact that it couldn’t take place as a direct confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States meant that it pushed the conflict out into essentially the decolonized world, right?

And the proxy wars of the Cold War, I mean, it’s, depending on how you do the math, somewhere between 10 and 25 million people died, depending on when you start counting and who you count. But wars in Vietnam, in Congo, in Ethiopia, which is my mother’s native land, Guatemala, all across Latin America. So it is interesting that there’s this kind of binary choice between the peace and never having a nuclear war, but boy, did it set off a huge number of proxy wars that just happened to have as its victims, not the people of the United States or Russia, but the people of largely the developing, poor, Black, Brown world.

ross douthat

Yeah, and I don’t think you get a sense of that complexity from the end of the movie. My reading, at least, of the end of the movie is, is much more sort of binary, that it’s not that Oppenheimer created this sort of complex, new world where maybe direct superpower conflict becomes rarer, but proxy wars become more common. Instead, the movie ends with this vision of atmospheric destruction, fire spreading across all of the Earth, the true apocalypse that we’ve all lived in some kind of fear of ever since the 1940s.

So in that sense, it’s presenting a vision of just sort of science slipping away from all political control and/or politics just doing what it will with terrifying technology. So let’s take a quick break here. And when we come back, we’re going to try and bring the conversation about the intersection of science and politics off the movie screen, out of the past, and into the present. So we’ll be right back.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

And we’re back. So we’re going to talk now for a minute about not just what the story of Oppenheimer says about history and the early Cold War and the life of the man himself, but about our own future here, 80 years onward in the beginning of the 21st century, where the question hanging over lots of issues, nuclear biowarfare and biotechnology, now artificial intelligence, is, can human beings control and tame the technologies that we create that might have potentially world destroying consequences?

So, for all of you watching a three-hour movie about the first time, arguably, the human race created such a technology, did it fill you with optimism about the human capacity to restrain itself once we’ve let certain genies out of the bottle?

michelle cottle

I don’t think we need to be feeling so optimistic. It’s not been around for that long. There’s still plenty of time for us to blow ourselves up, Ross.

carlos lozada

So there’s this one amazing moment in the book that I was hoping would appear in the movie, and that’s that when Oppenheimer dies, one of his three eulogists is George Kennan. So you have the father of the atom bomb being eulogized by the father of containment. And containment, of course, was the policy that, depending on how you interpret it, helped keep the two superpowers from going to war with one another with nuclear weapons. He has an amazing line in the eulogy. He says, on no one did there ever rest with greater cruelty the dilemmas evoked by the recent conquest by human beings of a power over nature out of all proportion to their moral strength. So it did not leave me with much optimism.

michelle cottle

There’s also this interesting development where Congress has looked at this movie and taken the opportunity to reintroduce some ideas about how to get their arms around it. I mean, we’ve seen Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts hawking his proposal to ban AI from launching nuclear weapons. Now, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but it’s got a very Dr. Strangelove doomsday machine feel to it. But it is what it is.

lydia polgreen

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s so interesting because as I was watching the movie, I actually thought a little bit about — and don’t be mad at me. I thought a little bit about Elon Musk.

michelle cottle

[LAUGHS]: Lydia.

lydia polgreen

He is not the kind of Sanskrit-reading sophisticate that Oppenheimer was. And he is also clearly of a different kind of political set of commitments, if you can even call them commitments, than Oppenheimer. But just looking at the various points of view that he’s taken, I think Musk shares this quality of bizarre naivete about the way that politics actually works. And I think like Oppenheimer, Elon Musk is a great synthesizer, perhaps not a great engineer of his own right.

But there is this kind of protean quality that Elon Musk has. And in his naive replies to right-wing, even anti-Semitic and other people with those kinds of political views on Twitter, I do see kind of shades of a very crude version of Oppenheimer, which makes me feel like we’re in for a fair bit more of this kind of, quote unquote, “innovation” that is hurling forward without really thinking a great deal about it. I mean, Elon Musk has just announced that Twitter is going to become a company called X, which will be an everything company that is driven by AI and do banking and God knows what else. So hold on to your butts, guys. This is coming for us.

ross douthat

But what’s interesting with Musk is that he is also a bit of an AI doomer, right, in the sense that he has been sort of supportive of some of the people calling for a pause in AI research. And a certain amount of Musk’s fascination with space travel rests on his professed fears about human extinction, the idea that we’re going to blow ourselves up in some way, shape, or form.

lydia polgreen

Yeah, Musk is sort of skeptical. But in some ways, that’s the most dangerous, right? Because I think so was Oppenheimer, right? Like, there’s this quality of being both aware of and smart enough to know how destructive this thing could be, but also so smart and so curious and driven that you can’t help but want to push it as far as it can go. And it’s actually exactly in the hands of someone like Elon Musk, who professes to understand the dangers, but nonetheless hears the siren song of the future calling and of innovation and of science and of technology and sort of can’t resist following where it leads.

ross douthat

Let me just play, I guess, devil’s advocate for a minute on the specific nuclear question, which I think is, it’s true, as Michelle said, that we’ve only had nuclear weapons for 80 years, 80 odd years, slightly less. And it is very hard for me to imagine a future in which they’re never used. There’s sort of a Chekhov’s gun quality to nukes in the world.

At the same time, we do have multiple generations now of evidence that human beings, when given this awesome power, power to destroy whole countries, if not the whole world, do flinch from it, right? The idea that if you hand human beings an awesome, terrifying technology, they will just use it, has not been vindicated. So far, politics has actually worked to contain the use of nuclear weapons.

The fear of AI is that it’s the fear of something that makes decisions that aren’t human anymore, that lead to destruction not through the sort of normal human power games and rivalries and so on that we’re all familiar with, but through some sort of alien computational logic, where it makes sense to fire all the nukes at once. And that, to me, feels like a difference between some of the fears we have now and the fears people had at the start of the nuclear age. Now it’s more like, well, we know what human nature is like, and we haven’t used the weapons, but we don’t know what AI is like. And maybe AI will use them. What do you guys think of that?

lydia polgreen

I mean, there’s questions about loose nukes, dirty nukes. Obviously, the war in Ukraine, Putin is, I think, not a stable figure. But I do think the point that we have greater faith in the known frailty of human decision-making over the unknown power of AI decision-making and of rationality is a really important one.

And I think that in some ways, it connects us back to the film in that science actually should be under the control of politics because in a moment where we’re all talking about we need to follow the science, follow the science, science is a method. It’s not an answer. It is a way of thinking about the world. And it needs to be balanced by other ways of thinking about the world. And those other ways include politics. They include religion. They include all kinds of ways that human beings organize their affairs and think about their values and things like that. So to me, it’s absolutely critical that AI stays as far away from these kinds of decisions as possible.

michelle cottle

Yeah, and I don’t think we have to limit this just to, say, AI and nuclear weapons. I mean, we did just come through a pandemic where there were serious questions about whether this came out of a scientific experimental lab that then takes its toll on the entire planet. I mean, and it’s just like people operate as though the unthinkable won’t happen until, of course, the unthinkable does happen.

And even if what the COVID-19 pandemic wound up coming from wasn’t, in that case, a lab, which we may just never know, that doesn’t mean that the next one won’t. And we have all of these things going on scientifically that we just don’t have a good grasp on or as good a grasp as we should have.

carlos lozada

I think one thing that would be certainly more useful is if there is just an ongoing, vibrant conversation among all those arenas that Lydia mentioned — science, politics, ethics, religion. And to the extent that a movie like “Oppenheimer” and a book like “American Prometheus” cannot lionize scientists and say like, they’ve got the answers. If only we’d listened, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But rather, enable this more of a give and take among these fields, I think would be better off.

ross douthat

Well, on that eloquent note, we’ll leave it there. And when we come back, we’ll be talking about the geopolitical metaphors hidden inside the “Barbie” movie. No, I’m kidding. When we come back, we’re going to get hot and cold.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

And we’re back. And now it’s time for Hot, Cold, where one of us shares something that we’re into or over or somewhere on the thermometer in between. And Michelle, I think you have something for us.

michelle cottle

All right, it is perfection that Ross has mentioned “Barbie” because what I am hot on this week is the Barbenheimer phenomenon. Now, I’m not talking about the movies. I saw both of them. I enjoyed both of them. But what I enjoyed even more was the way that this phenomenon, which is for those who haven’t been paying attention, kind of the portmanteau sprung up on social media because these two wildly different blockbusters were opening the same weekend, a challenge sprung up for people to go see both movies. I love this because we’re at a period where going to the theater has become a rare event. And seeing movies as a shared experience is happening less and less and less.

So for something like this to pop up just felt kind of delightfully communal. Movie theaters were hosting costume parties and encouraging people to come in their pork pie hats or their pink outfits. And you just had these groups of people, especially with the Barbie crew, including my friends and I, taking pictures of each other, complimenting each other’s outfits in the theater. It just had this feel, which was so unusual at this point in time. And it’s something that I think we need, especially after the last few years of isolation and grimness and pandemic horror, just for people to have a moment where they can come together, no matter how silly it is, and share this sort of thing.

ross douthat

And celebrate the invention of the atomic bomb. Yes, that’s all —

michelle cottle

Hey, you can argue that Mattel and Barbie have been its own kind of destructive force as well.

ross douthat

Well, that’s for a future episode. I was going to say that Mark Harris, the film writer, said something, I think, on Twitter about how often unexpected hits are more sort of shocking and disruptive in Hollywood than unexpected busts.

And I think the hope right now for people who like the movies would be that Barbenheimer, combined with the disappointment surrounding many, many superhero sequels and Indiana Jones reboots and so on, will have some kind of substantial effect in what kind of movies get greenlit and made over the next couple of years, assuming, of course, that the writers’ strike ever ends, and that Hollywood ever gets back to making movies in the first place.

carlos lozada

This reminds me of a few years ago when Steve Martin was hosting the Academy Awards, and he started off saying, look, I don’t know if you all know this, but I’m really especially happy to host this year’s Academy Awards because all the proceeds from tonight’s event are going to massive corporations. So not to be a Barben whiner, but I don’t take such joy in kind of being manipulated effectively by this kind of massive marketing campaign surrounding these two movies.

michelle cottle

If you’re waiting for purity in your communal experience, you’re going to die lonely. This is America.

carlos lozada

I don’t think so. I think there are other ways to be communal beyond paying $35 for popcorn and a soda.

michelle cottle

I’m just saying, we’ve got to find a way to bring people back to communal events, rather than sitting in their basements watching Netflix all the time. Then I’m all for that.

lydia polgreen

I agree, and I think I’ve really been bitten by the movie bug lately. I just recently signed up for a membership at Film Forum. I saw Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt,” a new print. There was a new print of “Midnight Cowboy.” So I’m all in on the return to the movies. And I don’t think any of those movies are putting money in the pockets of giant corporations that exist as we know them today. So I can feel really good about all of that.

ross douthat

Until a Godard Cinematic Universe is launched.

lydia polgreen

Launches, but I mean, I will say, one of the kind of leitmotifs of my summer has been just an absolute joy at the return to kind of communal experiences. We’ve seen real trouble in the world of theater, for example. I’m not talking about movie theaters. I’m talking about acting and actors on stage and things like that. And all of us need to vote with our feet and go and watch the theater, go to the movies, do things like this if we want these things —

michelle cottle

Thank you, Lydia.

lydia polgreen

— to be part of our culture going forward. So I am with you, Michelle. I’ve got my bucket of popcorn, my giant gallon jug of Diet Coke, and Twizzlers. And I’m ready to go. So I guess I’ll see you at the movies.

michelle cottle

Fantastic. I’ll be wearing my hot pink disco jumpsuit.

carlos lozada

And on that note, as I clutch my Robert Oppenheimer action figure, that’s our show for the week.

lydia polgreen

Bye, guys.

ross douthat

See you next week.

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Thanks for listening. Please follow “Matter of Opinion” in your favorite podcast app. And if you liked the show, leave us a review. Or if you want to share your thoughts with us directly, our email is [email protected].

“Matter of Opinion” was produced by Phoebe Lett, Sophia Alvarez Boyd and Derek Arthur. It is edited by Stephanie Joyce. Our fact-check team is Kate Sinclair, Mary Marge Locker, and Michelle Harris. Original music by Isaac Jones, Efim Shapiro, Carole Sabouraud, Sonia Herrero, and Pat McCusker. Mixing by Pat McCusker. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta and Kristina Samulewski. Our executive producer is Annie-Rose Strasser.

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