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Barbie and Oppenheimer: A Day of Thought Provoking Cinema

After watching the pop culture phenomenon that is 'Barbenheimer,' I am filled with plenty of thoughts that I need to discuss.

By Karina ThyraPublished 9 months ago 6 min read
Oppenheimer [Universal Pictures]; Barbie [Warner Bros.]

Barbie directed by Greta Gerwig and Oppenheimer directed by Chirstopher Nolan premiered globally on July 21, 2023. The unexpected "Barbenheimer" phenomenon took the internet by storm prior to both films' release, generating massive fanfare and contributing to their record-breaking box office success. Audiences flocked to theaters to witness the work of two acclaimed directors presenting fresh perspectives on familiar narratives. Both films have garnered critical acclaim, Certified Fresh Ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, and broken box office records, marking them as significant post-pandemic blockbusters. Despite their tonal and thematic differences, the convergence of these two films on a shared premiere day resulted in a unique movie-going experience that left a lasting impact.

Watch Barbie THEN Oppenheimer

Many critics advise watching Barbie before Oppenheimer, as it serves as a light-hearted and enjoyable opener for a full day at the cinema. Following this recommendation, I went to the theaters on opening day, eagerly choosing the earliest showtime, which happened to be Barbie. With little knowledge of the plot from teasers and trailers, I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional rollercoaster the film turned out to be.

Contrary to my initial expectations of a fun and pink movie, Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig, exceeded all my assumptions. Gerwig, known for thought-provoking films, infused Barbie with depth and meaning, challenging worldviews throughout the narrative. The entire theater, a diverse mix of men and women, immersed themselves in the movie, laughing at the right moments. And during a crucial scene in the film, the entire theater fell silent, except for some quiet sniffles (probably mostly my own). It was at that moment I knew that this Barbie movie was going to be life-changing for many of us, as any great story is.

About an hour and a half after Barbie, I proceeded to watch Oppenheimer. Some fellow moviegoers who had also seen Barbie joined me. The atmosphere differed significantly from the cheerful ambiance of Barbie. Oppenheimer was visually arresting, despite the sombre hues. It was a biopic of complicated people, and it did well delivering a story that most of us would have completely glossed over unless we had special interest in the scientists that built the atomic bomb.

Thematic Similarities

Both films share very similar themes of creation and death, as well as exploring science, politics, and ethical and moral dilemmas. In Barbie, the movie delves into feminist issues, portraying the experience of womanhood in a deeply patriarchal society, and it also tackles identity crises. These similar themes are also evident in Oppenheimer, as the main character embraces "left-leaning" ideals while allowing room for flexibility. Additionally, Oppenheimer, like Barbie, struggles with his purpose and the implications of his actions.

Despite their contrasting narratives, both films emphasize the enduring impact of ideas. In Barbie, the ghost of Ruth Handler mentions that while people have only one ending, ideas are eternal. This is exemplified by Barbie herself, an idea brought to life, still resonating powerfully over 60 years later. In the movie, a living, breathing Barbie represents an idea manifested in the physical world. Similarly, Oppenheimer's creation, the atomic bomb, outlives its creator, leaving behind a profound legacy as the architect of a potentially world-ending weapon. Even if the world forgets J. Robert Oppenheimer and the other scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, the idea behind their creation will live on forever.

Transformative Realizations

The theme of purpose is prominent in both films and carries significant meaning. Margot Robbie's portrayal of Barbie embodies the "Stereotypical Barbie," a character initially fixated on being nothing less than perfect. However, as the person who plays with her unknowingly projects their human complexities onto the doll, Barbie becomes enmeshed with existential thoughts. This interaction helps Barbie discover her identity beyond her "Stereotype" persona and allows her to evolve into a more nuanced and multifaceted character. Essentially, "Stereotypical Barbie" reflects the journey of all of us - individuals who may seem ordinary, but with the help of others, come to realize that we can be so much more than we originally thought.

Barbie [Warner Bros.] ; Oppenheimer [Universal Pictures]

As for Oppenheimer, he was a man who once seemingly wished for the end of the world, but eventually, he became an advocate against weapons of mass destruction. His primary goal was to help end the war, and once that was achieved, he sought to prevent future wars by opposing the further development of destructive weapons. He realized that the world's demise wouldn't occur in an instant; instead, it would be a slow and agonizing process.

What we can learn from both characters is the burden of purpose. One self-aware 'real' doll, Barbie, realized that she could no longer simply return to being the pressed and perfect being she once was. Her exposure to the 'real world' opened her eyes to the harsh realities of life that her creation hadn't solved.

On the other hand, J. Robert Oppenheimer, once he understood the full potential of what he had helped create, became repentant and an advocate for the regulation of weapons of mass destruction.

Both Barbie and Oppenheimer initially perceived their purpose in a singular way, but external factors helped them realize their ultimate or ongoing purpose. For Barbara Handler, that meant staying in the real world after liberating Barbie Land from the patriarchy; for Oppenheimer, it meant working towards a better world after helping end a war. Their journeys serve as a reminder that purpose can evolve based on experiences and self-awareness.

Resonating Themes in a Franchise-driven industry

Barbie and Oppenheimer offer a striking contrast in their presentation and marketing strategies. Barbie exudes a toy-pink aesthetic, creating a lively and colorful world, while Oppenheimer opts for somber black tones, setting a serious and thought-provoking atmosphere. Despite their tonal differences, both films gained a massive combined following.

Barbie's marketing campaign was rumored to have a whopping budget of USD 150 million. In contrast, Oppenheimer followed a more typical approach with a marketing campaign similar to other biopics. Both films, however, had one thing in common – they were helmed by talented directors who brought fresh perspectives to familiar stories.

Greta Gerwig, known for her success with Ladybird (2016) and Little Women (2019), directed Barbie, infusing it with her unique storytelling style. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer was skillfully directed by the prolific Christopher Nolan, whose body of work is too vast to list. Both directors demonstrated their mastery, breathing new life into narratives that many of us were already familiar with.

Final thoughts

What started as an online meme, 'Barbenheimer,' had an unexpected impact on the reception of both films, turning the simultaneous viewing of both into a grand cinematic event. This double feature proved to be a refreshing change for moviegoers who may have grown tired of the industry's relentless focus on franchises and predictable sequels. Barbie and Oppenheimer showcased what cinema could be when major studios prioritize substance over mere cash-grabs, delivering films that resonate deeply regardless of their source material.

Finally, after an entire day spent at the cinema, I had an epiphany that I encourage you, dear reader, to discuss. The films' last lines are still as resonant to me as they are haunting—one had wanted the end of the world, but the other made it a reality. Which one was it?


About the Creator

Karina Thyra

Fangirl of sorts.

Twitter: @ArianaGsparks

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Comments (4)

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  • Fritz Janssen9 months ago

    Your unique writing style is a true gift, and I am continually amazed by your ability to craft compelling narratives and convey complex ideas with such eloquence. Your command of language and attention to detail make every piece you create a joy to read, leaving a lasting impact on those fortunate enough to experience your work. I’m so grateful to have you as my friend. Proud of you🤗

  • I will definitely read this after I watched both movies, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts again! God bless Ms. Karina!

  • Vianney9 months ago

    This was a wonderful piece to read, I like you captured both movies and related both of their meanings, at the end of the day we are all meant to be finding ourselves!

  • Hom Mai9 months ago

    Thanks for sharing the Barbie Movie experience. It's really caught my intentions to make me want to watch also Oppenheimer.💖✨😸

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