“Oppenheimer” is full of dialogue based on lectures and speeches that Oppie and his peers delivered in real life, including the one he gives at Leiden University in the film. As “Unleashing Oppenheimer” reveals, Nolan and co-producer Andy Thompson entrusted cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Nolan’s regular director of photography dating back to “Interstellar”) with translating part of the lecture into Dutch for the scene. Hoytema also recorded himself saying the paragraph aloud at both a slowed-down and normal pace, allowing Murphy to commit it to memory.
“I listened to it and repeated it for about three months every morning,” Murphy explained. “I can still say it. It’s one of those things that I will never forget because I did it so many times.” However, lest you go assuming Murphy can speak a little Dutch now or has even the faintest understanding of quantum mechanics, he admitted it was “purely phonetic.”
As difficult as this scene was for Murphy, it serves a purpose beyond giving him a chance to showboat as an actor. More pointedly, it’s a moment that illustrates just how razor-sharp Oppenheimer truly is, so much so that he can learn enough Dutch in a matter of six weeks to explain complicated physics concepts to a body of people fluent in the language. This restrained approach is also indicative of what makes Murphy’s acting in the film so compelling in general. For all the ways his performance is the stuff of typical Oscar-baiting fare (right down to the weight he lost for the role), it’s his subtle hand that allows him to work his magic. Even when he, quite literally, has no idea what he’s talking about.