‘A direct assault on religious beliefs’

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OPPENHEIMER, from left: Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2023. ph: Melinda Sue Gordon / © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer. (Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

While it was no match for Barbie in this weekend’s Battle of Barbenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s riveting dramatic thriller Oppenheimer still made a deep impact at the box office.

The biopic tracing the life and times of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), focusing on his efforts to develop the atom bomb during World War II, opened with $80 million in the U.S. — well above estimates — and $174 million globally on a budget of $100 million. Those are the best for any Nolan film outside the Dark Knight series.

And although the film has become an instant Oscar contender, Oppenheimer has also become something of a controversy magnet in its few days of release.

We’re not talking about the handful of complaints noting a scene set in 1945 featuring an American flag with 50 stars (the U.S. only had 48 states at the time). No, the blowback doesn’t have to do with historical inaccuracies, but instead with a scene that some officials and viewers in India found too graphic.

Here’s the deal:

The sex scene

For a brainy movie brimming with lightning-quick scientific jargon and deep-cutting philosophical and moral debates, there’s also an uncharacteristically (for Nolan films) steamy sex scene involving Oppie and his Communist girlfriend (and later mistress), Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh).

A topless Tatlock straddles Oppenheimer and then briefly retreats mid-coitus to inspect the stocked bookshelves behind her. She grabs the Bhagavad Gita, considered one of the most sacred Indian-Hindu scriptures, and — impressed that Oppie can speak multiple languages — makes him read the volume as she climbs back on top of him and recommences intercourse. He reads a passage that includes the famous verse: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Conservative officials in India were not enamored with the scene.

OPPENHEIMER, from left: Cillian Murphy, director Christopher Nolan, on set, 2023. ph: Melinda Sue Gordon / © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Cillian Murphy and director Christopher Nolan on set. (Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

The backlash

Uday Mahurkar, a journalist and founder of the Save Culture Save India Foundation, penned an open letter to Nolan shortly after the film opened.

“It has come to our notice that the movie Oppenheimer contains a scene which make a scathing attack on Hinduism. As per social media reports, a scene in the movie shows a woman makes a man read Bhagwad Geeta aloud while getting over him and doing sexual intercourse. She is holding Bhagwad Geeta in one hand, and the other hands seems to be adjusting the position of their reproductive organs. The Bhagwad Geeta is one of the most revered scriptures of Hinduism,” Mahurkar wrote, adding that the scene represented “a direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus, rather it amounts to waging a war on the Hindu community and almost appears to be part of a larger conspiracy by anti-Hindu forces.”

Mahurkar’s letter was retweeted more than 5,000 times.

According to Variety, India’s minister for information and broadcasting, Anurag Thakur, has since asked for the sex scene to be removed from the film. There has been no immediate response from Nolan or Universal, which produced the film, but given Nolan’s uncompromising artistic vision, it seems unlikely he would consent to any such changes.

Despite the calls for a boycott from a loud minority, Oppenheimer has still performed admirably in India, grossing more than $7 million in its opening week to contribute to a worldwide haul of $180 million.



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