According to the Variety article, Nolan went to the AMC Lincoln Square 13 Theater in New York for his experiment. He took his wife and three of his children along to engage in the experiment with him. Nolan’s wife, Emma Thomas, also produced “Oppenheimer,” so she too was curious as to what audience reactions might be. “I usually don’t want to go,” she said, “but the minute I’m there, something magic happens.” It’s just as Nicole Kidman has been telling us for the last two years: we come to this place for magic.
Nolan recalled the scene in “Oppenheimer,” about halfway through the film, when the title character and his team of scientists are about to detonate an atomic bomb for the first time. Up until that point, the film has traced the career of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and his determination to create a bomb so powerful that its very existence would terrify the world into pacifism. The scene in question includes a lengthy countdown and depicts dozens of characters preparing for the dramatic moment of witnessing an atomic explosion for the first time.
Nolan sensed the crowd getting quiet. They, too, were rapt, waiting for the bomb to detonate. It was, in his view, extraordinary. Nolan said:
“It was a remarkable experience to be there. […] Every seat was filled, and the focus on what was happening on-screen was so strong. That level of engagement was something that I’d never really felt before. Real attention was being paid.”
The IMAX house at the Lincoln Square 13 has 476 seats, which is a lot for a screen of that size. Nolan managed to hold the room’s attention. Clearly, he had done something right.