“Those scenes were written deliberately,” Murphy, 47, told the Sydney Morning Herald in a recent interview conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike. “He knew that those scenes would get the movie the rating that it got. And I think when you see it, it’s so f–king powerful. And they’re not gratuitous. They’re perfect. And Florence is just amazing.”
Murphy gushed over his 27-year-old costar’s screen presence. “I have loved Florence’s work since Lady Macbeth and I think she’s f–king phenomenal,” the Ireland native added. “She has this presence as a person and on screen that is staggering. The impact she has [in Oppenheimer] for the size of the role, it’s quite devastating.”
Pugh’s small but memorable Oppenheimer role includes several explicit scenes — and the steamy shots were director Christopher Nolan‘s first sex scenes ever. In the sequences, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy) and his mistress, Jean Tatlock (Pugh), are mid-coitus when Jean starts asking about the scientist’s book collection. She brings him a book, the Hindu holy text the Bhagavad-Gita, to read to her. As he says the infamous quote, “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,” they return to their passionate love making.
The use of the quote — which the real-life Oppenheimer famously said came to mind upon testing the atomic bomb — during a sex scene stirred controversy in India. Uday Mahurkar, journalist and founder of the Save Culture Save India Foundation, issued an open letter to Nolan calling the sequence a “direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus,” alleging that Hollywood is more sensitive to depictions of Islam and other religions. (The controversy didn’t stop moviegoers on opening weekend, with Oppenheimer toping the box office in India, even surpassing Barbie.)
Less controversial but more surreal is Tatlock and Oppenheimer’s sex scene in the courtroom as he recalls his affair. His wife, Kitty Oppenheimer (Emily Blunt), is looking on as he recalls the details while being questioned by officials for possible Communist ties. The bizarre setting is intended to show how uncomfortable it was for the titular character to lay out all the intimate details of his life publicly.
Nolan, 52, explained that showing Oppenheimer’s sex life seemed essential to the story. “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 charm that he exuded, it’s an essential part of his story,” Nolan told Insider earlier this month.
He added that it was essential to show how Oppenheimer and Tatlock’s relationship rose above politics.
“It felt very important to understand their relationship and to really see inside it and understand what made it tick without being coy or allusive about it, but to try to be intimate, to try and be in there with him and fully understand the relationship that was so important to him,” Nolan shared.