Many of us have seen the “Barbenheimer” memes. Christopher Nolan was reportedly upset that Warner Bros. chose to release Barbie on the same day as his epic thriller, but inadvertently, the publicity likely means his film got far more viewership. Both are excellent summer blockbusters.
Undoubtedly Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, “Oppenheimer” has the intricate plotting of “Inception” with the war backdrop of “Dunkirk” and the political, multilayered character arcs of “The Dark Knight” trilogy. It has a runtime of three hours, but not a second drags or is wasted - those who felt otherwise likely lacked the necessary historical context to follow what was happening.
Admittedly, if you’re not brushed up on your Cold War and Manhattan Project history, it’s easy to get lost. Even if you understand what’s going on, with about 25 characters of major importance scattered across various locations presented in a non-chronological order, with much splicing and jumping back and forth, it can be challenging to keep up with the breakneck but layered story – most people would benefit from a second viewing, particularly after going down a Wikipedia research rabbit hole of all the main players.
“Oppenheimer” neither lionizes nor vilifies its subject. The film divides itself into four main arcs – J. Robert Oppenheimer’s complex personal life and inner beliefs, his work as a scientist, his skillful execution of the Manhattan Project, and his political persecution - but the film isn’t really about Oppenheimer at all. That’s the point. It’s an epic about man’s extraordinary ability to create, to work together, and also to produce terrible, self-destructive results through lack of foresight and misplaced insecurity. Lesser men quibble about the politics of it all - politics which dominate the film - but in the end, none of that really matters.
This marks Cillian Murphy’s most impressive performance to date. The cast has incredible support in Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon. There are quite a few additional stars in this you may not have known about, as the promo didn’t advertise much beyond Cillian.
With “Barbie,” I was expecting a meme parody of a toy commercial for Mattel, smattered with corporate feminist rebranding, which I absolutely was willing to subject myself to as a palette cleanser after the weighty “Oppenheimer.” I got all that, but I also got a film that was a bit more profound than I was expecting, without being too much.
It boasts a great message for younger girls (and lots of, at times, depressingly accurate jokes for the adult women - the bit about watching the 1995 BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice” repeatedly was too on the nose. I didn’t ask to be called out like that).
Barbie lives in Barbieland and believes all of women’s problems have been solved in the real world as a result of her feminist existence. Ken wants to be Barbie’s everything, but he’s just Ken. After having some intrusive, very human-like thoughts amidst her Barbie dream house paradise, Barbie has to go to the real world (on advice from “weird Barbie,” who is permanently in the splits and whose hair is chopped - casted perfectly in Kate McKinnon from “Saturday Night Live”) with Ken. They are horrified and delighted, respectively, to discover patriarchy in the real world.
“Barbie” is self-aware and recognizes that the toy has been weaponized against women over the years - we’ve been compared to her unrealistic body, and songs like Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” reinforced a sexualized image that was never intended for the toy line. Barbie was meant to be an independent woman without a husband who had her own career and could own a credit card before that was even legal in the real world.
The film grapples with this paradox skillfully and simply, in a way modern growing girls can understand, and in a way adult women can wearily recognize. Heavy themes aside, “Barbie” is funny, well scripted, well casted, wonderfully scored, and well worth your time.
Full of incredible colors, hilarious songs and delightful choreography, with a touching message to boot, “Barbie” is a must see whether you’re an adult or a child. If you’re a man upset about the message, take a seat; this film wasn’t made for you anyway. Perhaps you can start with a clerkship position at the Barbie Supreme Court and work your way up, so your views can eventually be heard in limited contexts.
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