Hi, Barbie! Hi. . .Oppenheimer?

Louis Park ’26 in Arts | September 8, 2023

Before last summer, the phrase "Barbenheimer" was merely nonsense, but now one cannot scroll on Twitter or TikTok without seeing the word everywhere. “Babenheimer" is the portmanteau of two movies, Barbie and Oppenheimer,  both released on July 21. These movies breathed new life into the stagnant film industry in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Hollywood Writers Guild of America strike. What is it about these movies that had people lined up outside theaters?

Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, is a comedy film based on the Barbie doll that many played with during their childhoods. When Barbie (Margot Robbie), a plastic doll who comes to life in Barbie Land, begins to feel the emotions of the girl who plays with her, she sets off to the real world to make the girl feel better. However, as Barbie starts her quest in the real world, she comes face-to-face with the misogyny and patriarchy of American society. In a world where feminine symbols like the color pink, bows, and even Barbie herself are sexualized or ridiculed, this movie highlights the beauty and joy of both femininity and womanhood.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Cillian Murphy, is a historical thriller about J. Robert Oppenheimer, a nuclear physicist who developed the atomic bomb by leading the secret "Manhattan Project" during World War II. The film is divided into Oppenheimer's personal history, the Manhattan Project, and the hearing after the Manhattan project during a rather long 180-minute run. The film brilliantly illustrates the process of developing an atomic bomb to end the war while hypocritically dooming humanity.  

The main reason Barbenheimer trended on the internet was due to the completely different styles of either movie; while Barbie explores the fantastical Barbie world that showcases bright colors and over-the-top outfits, Oppenheimer features dark history with heavy moral implications. While these two films were box office hits,  controversy arose due to fan-made Barbenheimer posters that combined Barbie and Oppenheimer. In some posters, Barbie’s pink and the atomic bomb’s mushroom clouds were synthesized, resulting in memes of pink mushroom clouds. This led to opposition in Japan, as many Japanese citizens claimed the caricatures were extremely insensitive. 

Despite this backlash, Barbie and Oppenheimer have reminded many of what is so special about going to the movies. Even though they have completely different genres and moods, everyone can find something to love about these cinematic masterpieces.