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Florence Pugh as Jean in Oppenheimer: Romance or Devastating Tragedy?

Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy have run into controversy. Who do they play in Oppenheimer and why is this love story so tragic? Oppenheimer, directed. by Christopher Nolan, is in theatres, breaking all box office records now. Go watch in your nearest IMAX cinema hall for a spectacular experience.

Florence Pugh as Jean in Oppenheimer: Romance or Devastating Tragedy?

Florence Pugh has been quite the child of controversy in recent times. Whose role did she essay in Oppenheimer and why does this romance end in tragedy? Read on to know more!

Cinephiles across the world have been looking forward to Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer since last year. Months of anticipation have brought its rewards. Nolan has created a unique theatre experience with Cillian Murphy in the lead. Oppenheimer, released alongside Greta Gerwig’s Barbie has broken all records in just a week of global release.

What is Oppenheimer all about?

Oppenheimer is an epic saga, dedicated to science, love, and the destructive power of inventions. It is a three-hour-long movie depicting the incredible real-life story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the atomic bomb. Set at the fag end of the Second World War, Oppenheimer is a brilliant artistic take on what led to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. Interestingly, some fans have already called out tiny historical mistakes that Nolan seems to have overlooked.

Oppenheimer also takes a look at the intense love story between Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) and Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). They met, fell in love and yet it all ended in acute tragedy. Certain erotic scenes between them have been deemed controversial in regions across the globe, including India.

Oppenheimer and Tatlock: Right Place, Wrong Time?

Robert met Jean during his tenure as a professor at UC Berkeley in California. Oppenheimer had a close friendship with Jean’s father John, a tenured professor of English Literature. Through him, he first laid eyes on the 22-year-old green-eyed brunette with a brilliant academic record. The year was 1936 and love was just blooming!

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The ten-year age difference did not seem to be a matter of consideration. Oppenheimer was head over heels and Jean returned his affections. Oppenheimer’s friend Robert Serber has been quoted as saying:

Jean was Robert’s truest love. He loved her more than anyone else. He was devoted to her.

Who was Jean Tatlock?

Green-eyed with brown hair cut short, Jean Tatlock was one of the most extraordinary psychiatrists of her time. In 1936, it was yet difficult to spot a woman academic, that too such a devoted one. Tatlock toured Europe, brushing up her skills as a psychiatrist and studying psychoanalysis. However, her close association as paying member of the Communist Party brought her into direct skirmishes with the FBI. Jean was one of the major reasons Oppenheimer was grilled relentlessly by the FBI. They thought that her Communist sympathies were equanimous with her being a Soviet spy. During one such harsh interrogation, Oppenheimer was reportedly quoted as saying:

Her party affiliation was intermittent and never seemed to provide her with what she was looking for. I don’t think her interests were really political. She loved her country, her people and her life.

An Affair to Remember

Even after his marriage to the biologist Katherine ‘Kitty’ Puening, Oppenheimer continued to visit his beloved Jean. They broke up in 1939 but their affair lasted much longer, presumably a lifetime. With his appointment as the director of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in 1943, Oppenheimer cut off ties with Jean. Much to her dismay, she realized that her depressive episodes had gotten worse. Struggling, she reached out to Oppenheimer. They met one last time when he returned to San Francisco and kissed at the railway station.

Suicide or Murder?

On January 4, 1944, Jean was found dead, her head submerged in a half-filled bathtub. Her father and her brother Hugh Tatlock claimed that it was murder, while the police investigation ruled a suicide. Jean’s suicide note was found nearby – “I am disgusted with everything. To those who loved me and helped me, all love and courage. I wanted to live and to give, and I got paralyzed somehow. I tried like hell to understand and couldn’t… I think I would have been a liability all my life — at least I could take away the burden of a paralyzed soul from a fighting world.” For nine decades now, there have been speculations regarding the actual cause of death.

Death and Loss

Oppenheimer was devastated by the death of Jean Tatlock. Peter De Silva, the one who informed Oppenheimer about the tragic event reported that the scientist was crestfallen and went for a walk, mumbling about how “he didn’t have anyone else he could talk to anymore”. A love, a life, and an age ended with probably the love story of the decade coming to terms with the futility of hope and the ephemeral quality of life.

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Pugh and Murphy: Did they do justice?

Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy have done more than justice to this immortal love story. Even in the midst of such a serious plot, Nolan has effortlessly included the tragic love affair. Even the sex scenes have plenty of reason for being a part of the film, although they have landed the film in scalding soup.

Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan, is currently smashing records in theatres near you. Get the full IMAX experience just as Nolan had intended!

Written By

Meghamala Ghosh is a post-graduate from the Department of English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. Her interests include films, music, books, and researching obscure historical facts in and around the City of Joy. She is particularly drawn to architectural, social, and entertainment-based journalism, although her passions also extend to academic research on political and cultural issues. In her spare time, she engages in Indian classical music and brushes up on her Shakespeare. Her aspiration is to be a writer who communicates not only through words but also through photography and performance.

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