A few weeks ago, both Barbie and Oppenheimer were released on the same day, sending Americans in droves to the theaters. Many decided to turn the two films into a double-feature, seeing them back-to-back, a feat dubbed “Barbenheimer” by the internet decisionmakers. Traveling much of late July and early August, I had to work hard to ignore all of the spoilers and reviews. Finally I had my Barbenheimer journey and am here to review the two films, as The Prompt Magazine’s official double-feature film expert.
I wasn’t sure which order to take, but the local theater’s timing worked out for me to take Oppenheimer first and wash it down with a Barbie chaser.
Let me start by saying how impressed I was with Oppenheimer. Although I always have a difficult time interpreting Christopher Nolan’s films, Oppenheimer presented a scrutinous examination on the corporate side of America’s recent past. Bouncing between two places on opposite sides of the world, was an enlightening way to introduce how much one’s actions can affect the other. And I loved the journey of trying to undo mistakes, after realizing the problems they caused others.
It was really a feast for the eyes in a way that only Christopher Nolan can do, and I was especially glad to see this in large format IMAX. I came in expecting a dark, slow, complicated Nolan tome and was blown away by the film’s surprising frequent lightness when discussing such a heavy theme.
Oppenheimer follows one man’s plight to develop and sell a polarizing and dangerous idea. Will Ferrell was great in that role, playing into the conflicts that live within him, as well as cutting that palpable tension with occasional bits of slapstick humor. Furthermore, Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Ken Oppenheimer went a long way in showing the psychological trauma of what it really means to be a powerful man. His gullible consumerist performance showed just how damaging big ideas can be when targeted to the masses.
I appreciated just how much Nolan featured the women of the Manhattan Project, as the history books have far too frequently erased their impact on modern America. I’d like to think this was his lesson from Hidden Figures. However I do wonder about his taking some pretty liberal leaps from the actual text in featuring an American woman president, played by Issa Rae. (By the way I would have voted for Issa Rae for a third time, if I could)
There was also a shocking amount of rollerblading in the film, a fad which I was pretty sure did not become popular until the 1980s, but it’s been over 20 years since I got a 3 on my Advanced Placement U.S. History test.
Overall, Oppenheimer was a shiny, digestible, delightful exploration into the development of one of America’s most heinous and disastrous weapons of the last century: stereotypical gender roles.
This movie was the bomb! Bravo to Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie for their transformative deep dive into the world of Science Lab Barbie and creating so much background for the character and providing a hyper specific example of Barbie, who has always been more than a toy on a shelf.
It would have been too easy for Barbie to be full of bright colors and bubblegum pop music, as we have been saturated with that version of the iconic blonde for decades. Instead of playing into expectations, Barbie took a serious, dramatic turn into her psyche as she worked to accomplish major scientific breakthroughs in a world most frequently impenetrable to young women.
But it wasn’t merely the same story of a woman trying to break into a man’s space, but also about the consequences of creating something in your own name and legacy that will make life tortuous for others in your wake.
Honestly, I was pretty confused for most of Barbie, not following all of the sturm und drang behind all of the steps forwards and backwards. Maybe I had been in the theater for too long but at this point things started blurring together a bit. And after taking a bathroom break courtesy of the jumbo soda during Oppenheimer, I really lost the plot for Barbie. All of a sudden, Science Lab Barbie was working alongside Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman, while I was simply trying to figure out which of Barbie’s other colleagues was Ken.
I didn’t expect Gerwig to reprise a lot of the tone and pace from Little Women, but sometimes habits are tough to break. Certainly I won’t question the stylistic choices of such a groundbreaking director, but I was hoping to see at least one dreamhouse. Alas.
Overall, Barbie was an overcast (by the way, what a cast!), grim, yet interesting, exploration into the development of America’s most heinous and disastrous weapons of the last century, an atomic bombshell!