(Editor’s Note: The following story contains spoilers for “Oppenheimer”.)
“Oppenheimer” is based on the eerie feeling that man-made death is lurking nearby, yet the film confuses the “little death” that has been long-awaited during its press tour.
Writer-director Christopher Nolan has said that “Oppenheimer” is his first film in his 25-year career to feature sex and sexualized nudity on screen. “Oppenheimer” earned Nolan’s first R rating since 2002’s “Insomnia” due to the included nudity. The Motion Pictures Association’s official rating description lists “some sexuality, nudity, and language, with brief scenes of rough sex that include bare breasts and buttocks.” Of course, this inevitably led to Viral posts from FilmTok and Film on Twitter anticipating how “strong” the advertised sultry sequences would be.
The first (very, Very brief) the scene in question features Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy having robotic intercourse after Pugh arches an eyebrow and engages in witty banter at a Communist Party mixer. Pugh plays psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, with Murphy playing the eponymous father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Nolan said Wired the two characters’ romance “is as strong as I’ve ever seen” in his films, most recently starring longtime collaborator Murphy.
Lead actor Murphy detailed his read chemistry with Pugh for The Guardian, saying, “They put two actors in a room to see if there’s any spark, and they have all the producers and the director at a table watching. I don’t know what metric they use, and it seems so outrageously silly, but sometimes you get chemistry and nobody knows why.
The Guardian cited the “prolonged nudity” as representing a “significant shift” in Nolan’s career. Murphy echoed that the complicated sex scene involving Blunt’s Kitty imagining Oppenheimer and Tatlock was “pretty heavy”.
Well, what wasn’t heavy was the chemistry that also proved elusive on screen, just as the “stronger sex” was weakly deflated and impotent.
Tatlock and Oppenheimer’s relationship lasted for years and overlapped with Oppenheimer leading the Manhattan Project, culminating in Tatlock’s suicide at the age of 29. So, shouldn’t Tatlock and Oppenheimer’s twisted romance be portrayed with the same fiery passion as its real-life story? Nolan’s portrayal of the Trinity Test is infinitely more explosive. “Oppenheimer” used real scientists as extras, but there was clearly no chemistry expert on set due to the sexless sex scene and awkwardly cold encounter.
Pugh and Murphy appear naked in three scenes, starting from the aforementioned very short intercourse sequence, during which Tatlock (Pugh) interrupts their sexual intercourse to ask Oppenheimer (Murphy) to read the “Bhagavad-Gita” in Sanskrit (i.e. the phrase “Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds”) while she holds the book on her bare breasts. As IndieWire critic David Ehrlich wrote in his review, “we’ve all done it” with a Sanskrit reference to doing it in the bedroom.
Tatlock and Oppenheimer later sit across from each other completely naked, with their genitalia covered in well-placed armchairs and camera angles, while Oppenheimer essentially breaks off their relationship. The final and most memorable scene has Oppenheimer recalling his romance with Tatlock as his wife Kitty (Blunt) looks on; Murphy appears naked, vulnerable in his honesty, with Tatlock soon draped over him, slowly spinning as he makes eye contact with Kitty as Kitty begins to cry.
The real transcript of the United States Atomic Energy Commission hearing of J.Robert Oppenheimer in 1954which is portrayed in the film, has Oppenheimer comparing his relationship to Tatlock, saying at the time recorded, “We were at least twice close enough to marriage to think of ourselves as engaged.”
However, Nolan steers clear of having Tatlock engage in too many scenes other than his slowly writhing like a fish fluttering in Oppenheimer’s lap.
As IndieWire’s Ehrlich added of Nolan’s characteristic tinkering with female characters, “Tatlock is played by a rosy-cheeked Florence Pugh, whose ‘be here now’ earthiness adds a much-needed polish to one of the most evil female characters Nolan has written in a minute. Emily Blunt doesn’t have such luck playing Oppenheimer’s alcoholic wife, whose decline is particularly evident in a film that hardly bothers to express what Oppenheimer thinks of her, or if he thinks at all.
Nolan admitted it The UK Telegraph who initially found the sex scenes “scary and challenging, but it was the appropriate challenge to the story”.
Nolan continued, “I try not to be aware of why something is going into a movie, just like I try not to think, ‘What haven’t I done before?'”
Likewise said a The Los Angeles Times that “Oppenheimer” is his most “extreme” film to date, in part due to the uncharted territory of erotica. “I got worried, ‘Can I get into that too?'” Nolan said of Oppenheimer and Tatlock’s relationship. “It’s so complicated, so important, the backbone of what it is, but it doesn’t fit into any dramatic relationship. But things that don’t fit can take on idiosyncratic relationships of their own, can emerge and become important.
“Oppenheimer’s” sex scenes come on the heels of controversial front-on female nudity in recent premieres like “No Hard Feelings,” “The Idol,” and “And Just Like That” Season 2. The Pugh actress has already stripped down for past roles and has spoken out about the importance of sex onscreen, while unashamedly going topless on the red carpet.
With some actors demanding less on-screen sex and nudity, the debate over the merits of sex in film has only deepened. Of course, “Oppenheimer” isn’t the only recent biopic to feature sex with 20th-century historical figures. Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde” earned an NC-17 rating in part due to a scene in which John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) watches an atomic bomb being destroyed on TV while receiving a blow job from Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas).
The ‘Oppenheimer’ star said Murphy The Sydney Herald that the sex scenes in question were “deliberately written,” adding of Nolan, “He knew those scenes were going to give the movie the rating it had. And I think when you see it, it’s so fucking powerful. And they are not free. They are perfect. And Florence is just amazing.”
As for Pugh’s Tatlock legacy, “Oppenheimer” only alludes to his suicide at the age of 29. Tatlock drowned herself in her bathtub in San Francisco; Nolan opted to only show the pillows Tatlock was found kneeling on and a sink filled with water and hair clippings. Of note, this is Tatlock’s second on-screen performance: Natasha Richardson played the late scientist in the 1989 film ‘Fat Man and Little Boy’.
For Nolan, Tatlock was instrumental in showing the effect Oppenheimer had on women and that, as a director, he was “appropriately nervous and properly careful and planned and prepared” when it came to coordinating intimacy.
“Well, when you look at Oppenheimer’s life and you look at his story, that aspect of his life, the aspect of his sexuality, his way with women, the glamor that he exuded, is an essential part of his story,” Nolan said. Insiders. “His very intense relationship with Jean Tatlock, played by Florence Pugh, is one of the most important things in his life. But not least because Jean Tatlock was very explicitly a communist and her obsession with her therefore had huge ramifications for his later life and her eventual fate.
Nolan continued, “So it was really important to understand their relationship and really see into it and figure out what made it work without being coy or suggestive about it, but trying to be intimate, trying to be there with him and fully understand the relationship that was so important to him.”
So why does sex feel like an afterthought in “Oppenheimer”? Amidst all the on-screen explosions and discussions of the physical attraction of atoms, a spark is missing in Nolan’s approach to sensuality and emotion outside of Oppenheimer’s intellectualism.