Jean Tatlock’s death is a pivotal moment in Oppenheimer but how did she really die after the film hinted at her being murdered?
*WARNING: Spoilers for Oppenheimer and content of a distressing nature discussed ahead* — Played by Florence Pugh, Jean Tatlock is a key figure in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer as she was romantically involved with the director of the Manhattan Project but, as the film depicts, there is some conjecture over how she really died.
Jean Tatlock’s relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer
Jean Tatlock and J. Robert Oppenheimer met in 1936 when Jean was a Berkley University student. Oppenheimer was a Berkley Professor.
Oppenheimer proposed twice to Tatlock during their relationship. She refused both times. Even after Oppenheimer’s marriage to Kitty in Nov 1940, the pair continued their relationship. The last time they met was June 1943.
Tatlock was herself a Communist Party member and it is reported that she introduced Oppenheimer with a few people involved in communist activity or who sympathized with them, which led to her being put under FBI surveillance.
Oppenheimer is said to have named the test for the first atomic bomb Trinity as a tribute Jean Tatlock, since the name was an allusion to John Donne’s poetry, to which he had been introduced by her.
When did Jean Tatlock pass away?
Jean Tatlock, who drowned at the age of 63 in a bath tub on 4 January 1944.
Jean Tatlock was diagnosed with clinical depression in the years before her death. Evidence points towards her suicide.
According to the coroner’s report from Tatlock’s autopsy, she had taken a non-fatal dose of barbiturates before her death and had traces of chloral hydrate in her blood, both of which are sedatives which she would have had access to through working as a psychiatrist in a hospital.
According to Oppenheimer’s depiction, Tatlock is said to have taken the sedatives before kneeling over the bath and then lowering her head in the water.
A suicide note was found in Tatlock’s apartment This is a translation of the original:
“I am disgusted with everything… To those who loved me and helped me, all love and courage. It was a paralysis that prevented me from living and giving. 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.”
There are still many theories surrounding her death
In the wake of Jean’s death, speculative theories emerged from some historians and Tatlock’s brother, Hugh, that questioned whether her death was really the result of suicide.
The theories state that agents of the Manhattan Project murdered Tatlock, as they were afraid that her Communist beliefs would allow her to pass along sensitive information.
The fact that chloral hydrate was found in Tatlock’s system has These beliefs are perpetuated as the drug is an ingredient in a ‘Mickey Finn,’ a drink designed to knock someone out cold.
A doctor quoted in the book American Prometheus, on which Oppenheimer is based, said: “If you were clever and wanted to kill someone, this is the way to do it.”
While the theories remain unproven, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer does reference them as a gloved hand can briefly be seen holding Tatlock under the water as Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer imagines her final moments.
Oppenheimer explodes onto cinema screens On Friday, 21st July 2023.
Call the Samaritans on 116-123 for free if any of the issues discussed in this article affect you or if someone would be willing to listen to your concerns. You can email them as well at[email protected]Visitsamaritans.orgFind your nearest branch here in the UK. For more information in the US, visit SamaritansUSA.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or by texting 741741. Americans are now able to call or text 988 in order to talk to a professional counsellor.