J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) consoles Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) in 'Oppenheimer'

The Sex Scenes In ‘Oppenheimer’ Really Were Sex as Only Nolan Can Do It

Christopher Nolan’s work isn’t really known for the love affairs at the center of them. Nolan’s movies often feel loveless, with a few exceptions like The Prestige or even Inception with Mal and Cobb. Sex, though, isn’t really a part of his storytelling approach at all. Except, that is, when it comes to Oppenheimer.

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Nolan’s latest movie focuses on the life and work of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) as he recounts his work on the Manhattan Project during his security clearance hearing in 1954. While he is questioned over “communist” connections, his romantic relationship with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) was of the utmost “importance” to the security council.

While Oppy tells his story of meeting Jean prior to his relationship with his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt), we see their first sexual encounter. It’s a fascinating angle because the audio of Murphy’s Oppenheimer saying the famous Bhagavad Gita line, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds,” comes from this sex scene. Jean finds Sanskrit writing in Oppenheimer’s room and brings it to him to read, which he does as the two have sex. The same audio is used later in the movie during the Trinity test sequence so knowing that it was said during sex is a bit out there (and has actually received harsh criticism from Hindu audiences) but that’s not why I can’t stop thinking about the labeling of “Sex as only Nolan could stage it.”


Kitty’s version of the sex scene was very Nolan-esque

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Kitty is present in the hearing when Oppenheimer is asked to describe his affair with Jean. As he discusses it, we the audience see their conversation in the past, both Jean and Oppy sitting naked on chairs together after they’ve had sex. But when we get Kitty’s perspective on the situation, she’s listening to them talk about the affair (which continued well into her marriage to Oppenheimer) and imagines Jean there in the hearing room, having sex with her husband in front of her, making prolonged eye contact with her. It is trippy, odd, and gives us a rare insight into Kitty’s thoughts and feelings on the situation but is very Nolan in its approach.

A lot of people often complain that sex scenes don’t have a purpose. I disagree and think that more often than not, filmmakers have a way of using the physical act of sex to tell us about the characters’ emotional state in the midst of it. With Oppenheimer, we really get to see where Oppenheimer’s head is, as well as Kitty’s.

It is really fascinating how Nolan connected Oppenheimer’s relationship with Jean with his marriage to Kitty and seeing those two worlds collide together—all while foreshadowing the Trinity test and subsequent destruction—really brought out the “Nolan-esque” mood that made this such a unique sex scene. I’ve not stopped thinking about it since.

This really was sex as only Nolan could stage it but it really does work to drive home how explosive Jean and Robert were together.

(featured image: Universal Pictures)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.