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Oppenheimer:A Biopic Controversy

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

11th July 2023. A biopic masterpiece that is perhaps second only to ‘Laurence of Arabia’ hits the silver screen. An intense narrative that depicts the rise of an avant-garde scientific idea,Oppenheimer has certainly captured the hearts of millions. It has also incited a firestorm of controversy amongst Indians who are conflicted between artistic creativity and religious sentiments.

Never in the course of human civilization was such a destructive and absolutely earth shattering force unleashed upon the world. 6th of August,1945. Hiroshima is devastated by the infliction of a firestorm. One is well aware of the man who unleashed the weapon. Harry Truman,a figurehead of bad decisions. The man who created this horror. Robert J. Oppenheimer.

Christopher Nolan has woven an intricate web of perfection as he tells the story of a brilliant young man who came to hate his greatest achievement,who was consumed by guilt and remorse for his creation,who was publicly slandered,a man who bore the brunt of Washington politics. Whilst Nolan’s superlative interpretation is much admired,there are some who question the necessity of certain scenes. Most specifically,the debatable amorous scene between our protagonist and his ill fated lover,Jean Tatlock.

Jean Tatlock was an enigmatic woman indeed. At first glance,she may seem like the quintessential woman of intelligence during a deeply male chauvinistic age who has an almost fanatic passion for communism. She is so much more than that. She struggles with an innate tendency for self destruction,she is conflicted about her sexual orientation,she lives in an age where homosexuality is seen as a malignant disease and she is deeply in love with a flawed yet upright scientist. Oppenheimer. She played an integral role in his veerings towards communism,in his exploration of novel ideas,in shaping his philosophy and his approach to life.

Their passion was fiery,it had spark,it had spirit;it was volatile,there were soaring highs and plunging lows,it was a love of extremes. It was unlike the steadfast and dependable relationship between Kitty and Oppenheimer and it was unlike any other dalliance that womanising Oppenheimer had had.A love as intense as theirs needed an equally ardent love scene. Although Florence Pugh’s presence on screen is brief,it has also sparked outrage from the right wing of India. In this scene,Jean finds Sanskrit writing in Oppenheimer’s room. The two proceed to engage in intercourse as Oppenheimer reads an excerpt from the Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Sanskrit text that centres on the discussions between Arjuna and his charioteer Lord Krishna who is an incarnation of Vishnu. On the eve of the Kurukshetra War,restlessness consumed Arjuna’s mind. How could he wage war against his own? How could he slaughter his blood relations and his friends alike? Lord Krishna conceded that it would be an injustice to engage in battle but it would be an even greater injustice to let evil walk free. Arjuna is enlightened about Holy Duty or Dharma that asks him to stand by the war irrespective of his personal concerns. But Arjuna remained unconvinced and he asked Krishna to reveal his universal form. A manifestation of a sublime,terrifying beast of many mouths and eyes appears before Arjuna.Lord Krishna’s message is crystal clear. No matter what course of action Arjuna follows through,everything is in the hands of the divine.Arjuna is a warrior whose duty it is to fight.It is Lord Krishna who shall determine who is to live and who is to die and not Arjuna. A warrior should neither mourn nor rejoice over what fate has in store, but should be sublimely unattached to such results,”

“If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one,”-Robert J Oppenheimer

A mushroom shaped terror swirls with its arms extended towards the heavens,an ever increasing holocaust sweeps the air,an eerie stillness consumes the air,then a blinding luminescence forces Oppenheimer to shut his eyes in pain. An echo repeatedly sounds,’’Now I am become Death,the destroyer of worlds’’.But the rest of the world remains oblivious of this echo,of these haunting words,they do not feel pain or remorse.Oppenheimer believed the unfolding events to be symbolic of divinity and of justice. Little did he know that these words were not approval from the Gods but words that would continue to haunt and plague at every turn of his life.

Nolan has,at this critical moment of Trinity, inserted the very same audio of the sex scene. A wave of protests have swept India. The right wing has called for a boycott of this movie as they fervently believe that the sanctity of the Bhagavad Gita, a spiritual and divine text has been violated and disrespected. Is it not an attack on Hinduism? Would they have been so careless when it came to the Bible? Oppenheimer may be a cinematic masterpiece but it has also failed to consider the sentiments of the Hindu community.

Is this interpretation sound? Or does it not consider the deeper significance of this scene? Is it also a reflection of Indian society's antiquated perspective of sex? When was it that sex was considered impure and only as a mechanism to procreate?

Sex has always been a hushed-up subject that society refrains from bringing up. People often think of it as an immoral reality of life that is a result of our animalistic past. Sex is considered a carnal desire that is the basest of all human instincts that have been bequeathed upon us. It is without honour;integrity;it surely cannot have any part in a civilised society. And yet is it not ironic that India has the largest population in the world?

There is no doubt that the twenty-first century has brought in great progress and sweeping change. There is awareness about the various spectrums of the LGBT community and today's generation is supportive of such diverse identities. Sexual education has certainly improved for the better with comparison to the twentieth century. Yet we remain far away from the ideal. Although,society does have a more favorable outlook on sex;society yet considers sex to be far too grubby to be associated to religion. Religion is afterall divine and it is a disgrace to tarnish the gods by mixing religion and sex. Is this not the general perception? That religion abhors sexual intercourse; that sex is far too foul to even mention religion and sex in the same sentence.

Far from orthodox,Hinduism and Indian culture recognizes the need for engaging in intercourse not only as means to reproduce but also because sex plays an integral role in an individual's life. The Kama Sutra,which is an ancient Sanskrit script on sexuality and erotiscism,only demonstrates Indian culture's openness to sex. It was colonial rule that prohibited the very mention of sex;that convinced the Indian population that sex was foul,that it was crude and vulgar;that no civilised society should speak of it. Colonial rule made it taboo. It was not ancient Indian scriptures that condemned sex;it was imperialistic interests.

Whilst the outrage following Oppenheimer is admirable;afterall these ardent disciples of Hinduism only wish to protect the sanctity of their holy religion,it is also imperative that they comprehend the Artistic creativity and the significance of the amorous scene between Oppenheimer and Jean. It is also of the utmost importance that Indian society liberates itself from the colonial outlook on sex and readapts its former liberal approach pre-colonial rule.

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