For a film based on the man who is known as the “father of the atomic bomb,” you would think that it wouldn’t be hard to find what makes Oppenheimer so controversial. The film focuses on an invention that was used in WWII to attack Japan—which resulted in high death tolls and paranoia over nuclear war for the next two decades. Surprisingly, that’s not what everyone is talking about. Instead, director Christopher Nolan angered the Hindu-right by having a character utter religious scripture during a sex scene. Let me explain.
Depicting Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Florence Pugh as his lover, Jean Tatlock, Oppenheimer features a sex scene in which the physicist reads from the Bhagavad Gita. He utters the famous line: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The scene promptly caused a major stir in India, with many political groups calling for a full boycott of the film. India’s Information Commissioner, Uday Mahurkar, issued a statement on Twitter, saying that the moment was, “a direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus.”
Of course, there isn’t much historical basis for this scene. During an interview in the 1960s, Oppenheimer first uttered the line, recalling the 1945 Trinity test. He likened the experience to a sentence he read from Hindu holy scripture. The line is also said multiple times throughout Oppenheimer—including during the sex scene.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Murphy stated that Nolan wrote the film’s sex scenes “deliberately” knowing that it would cause Oppenheimer to receive an R-rating. “I think when you see it, it’s so fucking powerful,” he continued. “They’re not gratuitous. They’re perfect. And Florence is just amazing.” Oppenheimer’s relationship with Tatlock also comes to haunt him later in the film, when he’s tried for alleged Communist ties. Despite outrage from Hindu-nationalist groups, CNN reported that the film has largely been received well at the Indian box office.