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Justice for 'Oppenheimer' Women

Let me start by saying that I worship at the altar of Christopher Nolan. From The Prestige to The Dark Knight,Inception to Dunkirk, I can never resist his unique steely, high-concept blockbusters—their intricate plots, epic cinematography, thunderous scores, stylish interiors, and mysterious and tormented protagonists. These spurs, however, are almost always accompanied by what I consider to be the author’s Achilles’ heel: namely, his penchant for filling his films with severely underdeveloped female characters.

There are arguably some exceptions — perhaps Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain play NASA scientists in Interstellar , though they too are largely defined by their relationships with the film’s male counterparts. Beyond that, however, it’s a veritable wasteland of dead wives inspiring leading men (Joya Fox in Memento , Piper Perabo and Rebecca Hall in The Prestige , Marion Cotillard in Inception , Matthew McConaughey’s character’s wife in Interstellar ; ) in Lucy Russell, Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight ); murdered teenage girls (Crystal Lowe in Insomnia ); women in desperate need of rescue (Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, Elizabeth Debicki in Tenet); Cotillard, Dipper Kapadia in “Tenet”); and energetic sidekicks (Hilary Swank in “Insomnia”, Scarlett Johansson in The Prestige, Elliott Page in Inception, Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises

). Then there’s Dunkirk , which, of course, has no named female characters at all.

So when news broke of Nolan’s next jaw-dropping gig, Oppenheimer , a touring biopic about atomic bomb inventor Robert Oppenheimer, which will feature two prominent and buxom female characters — his wife, Kitty, a biologist and botanist, played by Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh as his ex-lover, psychiatrist Jean Tatlock — was certainly heartening . Of course, the spotlight will still be on the titular theoretical physicist (the awesome Cillian Murphy) as he grapples with the legacy of his era-defining creation, surrounded by a cast of scientists, generals, and politicians that includes Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, and Gary Oldman, among others. But I hope that these two respected British stalwarts, who are new to the Nolan universe, will also have the opportunity to leave their mark on the Nolan universe.

Sadly, they don’t have the space to do that – relegated to the fringes in every sense of the word. First there’s Blunt’s Katie, who when she first appears onscreen is really nothing more than an impeccably dressed, red-lipstick blur lurking in a corner on the shoulder of Murphy’s Oppenheimer as he’s grilled at his 1954security hearing. Despite what everyone says about her being a very smart and attractive woman, we see her in flashbacks as a drunken and slightly demented flirt who is seen as involved with two men – she is clearly attracted to Oppenheimer, and her then-husband. When she later delivered a monologue to him that condensed her biography to date, the focus was on her three previous marriages, including to Joseph Dallett, through whom she joined the Communist Party—a connection that would later negatively affect Oppenheimer. 195419541954



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