By: A. B. Jabur
2023 has seen one of the biggest cinematic phenomena in recent years: "Barbenheimer."
The two blockbusters who ruled the summer could not be more different: one, a historical drama about the creator of the atomic bomb, and the other, a bubblegum- pink comedy about the world’s most famous doll. And yet, the same-day premiere of the two films, both made by renowned, Oscar-nominated directors, proved to be one of the highlights of the summer.
Oppenheimer chronicles the fascinating life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the creator of the nuclear bomb. It features incredible performances by a stellar cast: Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Rami Malek and Robert Downey Jr. all of which portray real-life historical figures who played a part in the creation of the atomic bomb, and the disastrous aftermath which destroyed its creator’s life. The film, directed by Inception and Interstellar auteur Christopher Nolan, is a heart-pounding 3-hour drama, perceived by some as boring and by some as absolutely thrilling. In typical Nolan fashion, it follows a non-linear timeline throughout the life of Oppenheimer, profoundly analyzing his character and the impact his work made on the world. It is a brutally gripping film with ridiculously immersive cinematography and sound design, and one which will certainly leave its mark on the world.
Barbie, on the other hand, is an incredibly fun, colorful, and bubbly film heavily tinged by existentialism and feminist themes. With standout performances by Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, and America Ferrera, the film follows Barbie and Ken on a quest to leave perfect, plasticized Barbieland in order to discover the real world; however, they quickly learn that it is not all they expected it to be, and Barbie must go on a quest to save Barbieland from the real-world dangers that have infiltrated it. Directed by Greta Gerwig, also responsible for other masterpieces such as Lady Bird and Little Women, Barbie is not only fun, comedic, and colorful, but also extremely thought-provoking and layered, acknowledging Barbie’s shortcomings as well as her strengths when it comes to being a role model for little girls, in addition to the difficulties women face in the world on a day-to-day basis.
The two films couldn’t be more different, and yet they are forever linked in the minds of the public due to one factor: their simultaneous release on the 21st of July. What began months ago as an internet joke only grew as the films’ marketing intensified, and what was originally a competition to see which film would be more successful evolved into a highly-anticipated double feature and “Barbie vs. Oppenheimer” quickly became “Barbie AND Oppenheimer.” Nolan fans, Barbie fans, history buffs, and cinephiles alike gathered at cinemas across the globe to witness the phenomenon of what was dubbed “Barbenheimer”. The aftermath has been glorious: Barbie and Oppenheimer have both been extreme critical and commercial successes, and have brought a new surge of people to the movie theatres, which have been struggling since the pandemic.
In all, this phenomenon has proven to be beneficial for not just the film industry, but also for the state of cinema as a whole - what the two films share is that they are equally thought- provoking and nuanced, providing general audiences with something that is not meant to simply be consumed, but thoroughly analyzed and dissected. In a world of increasingly mindless content, the release of these two films certainly bode well for the future of cinema.