Katherine Oppenheimer, aka Kitty, was a fierce, strong, and resilient woman, and a lot of times, it was her ability to fight back that helped her come out of conflicts unscathed. Oppenheimer was an interpretation of Christopher Nolan, and we believe he must have taken a lot of creative liberties while writing the scenes of which she was part of.
Kitty was married to Stewart Harrison when she met Robert Oppenheimer for the first time at a get-together. There was something very quaint about Robert that attracted Kitty, and she ended up spending her entire time with the physicist at the party. Kitty made it clear that her husband often behaved as if she didn’t exist, and she was extremely unhappy about it. Robert also told Kitty that he was seeing this girl, but he didn’t know where their relationship stood or if he was in one or not. Robert was in touch with Jean Tatlock at that time, but he didn’t know what she wanted, and he wasn’t ready to wait for her his entire life.
People at the party did notice Robert and Kitty getting close with each other, and for some time, they became the talk of the town. But soon, Kitty and Robert got married to each other, and put all the rumors to rest. Kitty and Robert’s relationship was far from perfect, and the way it was portrayed by Christopher Nolan, it does seem that Kitty was often the mature one in the relationship. Kitty had to sacrifice a lot to be with Robert, but she made that choice, and it did take a lot of toll on her mental health. Kitty was a biologist by profession, and she had her own independent standing in society. The problem arose when Robert moved to Los Alamos with the other physicists, and Kitty’s role was reduced to being just a mother and wife. This was the time when she started drinking, and she didn’t even realize when it became an addiction.
Kitty was feeling extremely lonely, and apart from looking after the kids and waiting for Robert to return from work, she had absolutely nothing to do the entire day. Just like in any other patriarchal household, responsibilities were not equally shared in the Oppenheimer house, and Kitty felt that her career had been sabotaged, and secondly, she had been restrained in the house and burdened with everything. Robert didn’t have time for himself, so catering to the needs of his wife and children was out of the question. Somewhere, he expected Kitty to compromise with her life, but he himself was not ready to make any kind of bargain when it came to his own. Robert accepted the fact that he was selfish, and he made it very evident from his actions that his work was his priority.
Kitty understood the gravity of the work that her husband was doing at Los Alamos, and that is why she, at times, held herself back from saying anything. On the day Robert’s team was conducting a test, she asked him if the bomb was finally ready. Obviously, Robert was not allowed to tell her anything as it was a top-secret mission, and Leslie Groves was specially told to keep a check on each and every person. There were security clearances for a reason, as the United States government didn’t want the information to reach the Soviet Union or any other European nation that they were working on an atomic bomb. So, Robert told Kitty that if the Trinity test was successful, he would give her a call from his office and tell her to bring in the sheets. That day, after the test went well, Robert’s assistant called Kitty and told her in a confused manner that Robert had asked her to bring the sheets in. Kitty understood that her husband had done it, and there was a sense of achievement that she also felt at that moment.
Robert broke down after he got to know that his longtime love interest, Jean Tatlock, had died under mysterious circumstances. He felt miserable, and in that time of despair, he didn’t know what he should do or how he should go back to working once again. Kitty was obviously hurt when she learned about the affair, but she didn’t walk out of the marriage. She was unhappy that Robert had broken the sanctity of the marriage, and she told him that now he could not cry and expect her to be sympathetic with him just because he felt bad that Jean had died. Kitty did remind Robert that what he was trying to do was bigger than him, her, or anybody else, and he needed to gather himself and go back to work as the scientists were looking up to him for leading them.
When Robert appeared in front of the AEC as they wanted to revoke his clearance, Kitty lost her temper often as she could see the people for who they were. From the very beginning, she was very sure that it was Lewis Strauss who was orchestrating everything, even though Robert was not ready to embrace reality. Kitty was anything but docile, and when she got to know that Edward Teller spoke against Robert and yet he had shaken his hand after his testimony ended, she got very mad at her husband. She believed that sometimes when a person does not show aggression and refrains from giving a befitting reply, people see it as a weakness and try to take advantage of it. She didn’t understand what Robert was trying to do by putting up with all the insults and letting people like Roger Robb devour him every day. Kitty had a tempestuous relationship with Robert, but that didn’t stop her from fiercely standing up for him at the AEC hearing.
Roger Robb had no clue what he was signing into, and he had actually thought that he could get the better of Kitty. After witnessing how the testimonies of various people went, we believe that had it not been for Kitty, Robert Oppenheimer would have been declared a Soviet spy by the commission. Kitty not only disarmed Roger Robb, but she decimated him, and he didn’t know how to deal with the situation. Robert didn’t get his security clearance, and he called Kitty once again, telling her not to take the sheets in. Kitty’s relationship with Robert might have been far from perfect, but still, she was his pillar of strength, somebody who made sure he stood back on his feet whenever he fell, someone who made sure he achieved what he had set out for, and it is difficult to imagine that Robert would have utilized his potential had she not been there with him.