Christopher Nolan presents J. Robert Oppenheimer as a womanizer in his latest larger-than-life biopic. He equates sex with death, in one scene, reading from sacred Hindu text the same words he spoke at the Trinity testing. (An artistic choice that has Hindu audiences outraged.) Nolan knows that audiences easily excuse misogyny by accepting the fact that “that was acceptable male behavior then.” But Nolan makes choices that further marginalize the women in the plot. Oppenheimer was a professor at Cal when he started dating a 22-year-old post-baccalaureate student. Despite her largely untreated major depressive disorder, Oppenheimer continued the relationship at times during his marriage. In real life, her family believed she killed herself, but Nolan frames a pair of black gloves in the scene where she drowns. The notion that it was the FBI, and not a serious disease, depression, and the strict gender and sex roles of the time that killed Jean Tatlock minimizes this woman's genuine struggle. Nolan also gives limited space to the fascinating character of Kitty Oppenheimer, played by Emily Blunt, one of the most talented female actors of our day. Kitty was a scientist herself and was so tired of New Mexico that she left her second child with a physicist to take respite with her parents for a few months (the second child, a girl, ultimately committed suicide in the 1970s). The audience is already aware that women of that era were marginalized. But here there were at least two incredible characters Nolan failed to further develop, who broke barriers by studying in the sciences, but are memorialized in the film as accessories of a “great” man and take of misogyny.
In Response to: New ‘Oppenheimer’ Film Projects a Brilliant Physicist’s Life