“Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” This line also appears earlier in the film, when a young man “Oppie” flirts with the seductive communist mollusk Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh). She took out a copy of the Bhagavad Gita from her lover’s library. He tells her that he has learned to read Sanskrit. She challenged him to translate a random passage on the spot. Enough about:
“Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” (In fact, the phrase appears during post-coital reverie—a state of bliss the French call la petite mort, “the little death”—and in the midst of a longer conversation about science. new of Freudian psychoanalysis – is about as close to a joke as Oppenheimer believed. .)
According to Nolan, who also wrote the script, Oppenheimer’s superficial knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindu religious traditions was little more than one of his many eccentricities. After all, this is a guy who took the name “Trinity” from a poem by John Donne; who prides himself on having read all three volumes of Marx’s Capital (in the original German, of course); and, according to Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s biography American Prometheus, he taught himself Dutch to impress a girl. But Oppenheimer’s interest in Sanskrit and the Gita was more than an idle pastime or a simple party trick.
In American Prometheus, considered Oppenheimer’s touchstone, Bird and Sherwin portray Oppenheimer as more seriously committed to this ancient text and the moral universe it evokes. They develop a resonant image that is largely overlooked in Nolan’s films. Yes, there are quotes. But little is said about the meaning behind it – a meaning that sheds light on Oppenheimer’s own conception of the universe, his place in it, and his ethics, such as they were.
Composed DURING the first millennium, the Bhagavad Gita (or “Song of the Lord”) takes the form of a poetic dialogue between a warrior prince named Arjuna and his charioteer, the Hindu god Krishna, in his humble human form. At the dawn of an important battle, Arjuna refuses to fight, abandoning the idea of “slaughtering his loved ones in war.” During their lengthy back-and-forth (which takes place over about 700 stanzas), Krishna tries to alleviate the prince’s moral dilemma by adapting it to his design. larger universe, in which all living creatures are obliged to “obey dharma, which can be roughly translated as “virtue.” As a warrior, in war, Krishna said that Arjuna’s dharma was to serve duty and battle; just like the dharma of the sun to shine and the dharma of water to quench thirst.
In the poem’s ostensible climax, Krishna reveals himself as Vishnu, the many-armed (and many-eyed and many-mouthed) supreme god of Hinduism; formidable and magnificent, a “god of gods.” Arjuna immediately understood the true nature of Vishnu and the universe. It is a vast infinity, without beginning or end, in a continuous process of destruction and rebirth. In such a spectacular and multifaceted universe (the “multiverse”, in contemporary blockbuster parlance), an individual’s morality hardly matters, for this grand design repeats itself in accordance with the law. its own universe. Humiliated and convinced, Arjuna drew his bow.
As told by American Prometheus, the story had a significant impact on Oppenheimer. He called it “the greatest philosophical song that exists in all known languages.” He praised his Sanskrit teacher for renewing his “sense of the place of morality.” He even named his Chrysler Garuda in homage to the Hindu bird god Lord Vishnu. (That Oppenheimer seems to sympathize not with the morally conflicted Arjuna but with Lord Vishnu himself may say something about his sense of personal importance.)
“The Gita,” Bird and Sherwin write, “seems to provide exactly the right philosophy.” That is