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Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy Explain the "Decay" and Horror of Oppenheimer

The duo behind Oppenheimer got candid about the real-life people who inspired their characters in Christopher Nolan's new film.

By Caitlin Busch

When your lives are dedicated to something as potentially world-altering as the creation of the atomic bomb, things are bound to get complicated. J. Robert Oppenheimer and his wife Katherine "Kitty" Oppenheimer, portrayed by Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt, respectively, in Christopher Nolan's latest project, Oppenheimer, were proof of that.

When NBC Insider spoke with Blunt at a press junket before the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike about her perception of Kitty’s life — which was often marred by isolation and addiction after her husband moved their family to a remote town in New Mexico in order to complete his work on the Manhattan Project — she didn’t hold back in describing how difficult it seemed.

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“I think that she deteriorated as everybody sees,” Blunt said of Kitty’s mental and physical state throughout her life and, subsequently, the film. “She's sort of like decayed over the course of the film and of a lifetime because she was fostering [her husband’s] future, his plans, his pursuit.”

But, she clarified, that wasn’t all too different from other wives in the mid-20th century. 

“A lot of women contorted themselves to facilitate a husband's needs,” she said. “But this was on like a world-changing scale.”

Kitty’s mental and emotional state, while not too unusual, as Blunt said, was only exacerbated by the reality she lived in. The families attached to the Manhattan Project — who were moved to the remote desert location to create and test a potentially world-ending weapon as yet witnessed by humanity — were all isolated and kept in a sort of insular community. A story like that naturally lends itself to a haunting kind of environment.

And thus, Oppenheimer is as much a thrilling horror film at times as it is a biopic about the man who created the world’s first atomic weapon.

“I feel like it is a historical film, it is a kind of a biopic, but it's not in many ways because [Nolan’s] managed to kind of smuggle in all these other genres,” Murphy said at the same junket. “Like it's a thriller, it's a love story, it's kind of got very, very strong horror elements in it I think sometimes and I think it's incredibly entertaining — but also it's provocative.” 

Ultimately, Murphy concludes, Oppenheimer is a film that “asks questions of the audience,” questions we can try and answer when it premieres exclusively in theaters on July 21.

Reporting by Stephanie Gomulka.