Disclaimer: The following article contains spoilers from the movies Barbie and Oppenheimer.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably seen the word “Barbenheimer” plastered and posted everywhere. Barbenheimer ― the mishmash of the words Barbie and Oppenheimer ― has gained major social significance in the months leading up to the release of the two movies. The debate centering around the films has taken pop culture by storm, even to the extent of the respective actors and directors of each movie commenting on the topic.
The main discourse was the fact that both of the films were released in theatres on the exact same day. This follows Christopher Nolan’s, Oppenheimer’s director, dispute with Warner Bros in 2020. Oppenheimer was announced to be released and distributed by Warner Bros’ rival company, Universal Pictures, on July 21 2023. Shortly after that, Warner Bros Pictures announced that the long awaited Barbie live-action would be released on the exact same date of Oppenheimer, leading many to believe that the choice was intentional. Nevertheless, there seems to be no bad blood between the directors and casts.
In an interview, Nolan stated that the same-day releases were an amazing feat for cinema as a whole. The Oppenheimer director noted that a “crowded marketplace” is “terrific.” Cillian Murphy, the leading man in Oppenheimer, was also extremely excited for the releases, even announcing that he would be watching Barbie in cinemas. The positive response was mirrored with the Barbie counterparts. Most of the cast recommended watching both movies on the same day or over the same weekend. Margot Robbie, the producer and main character of Barbie, was even pictured with an Oppenheimer ticket with the opposing movie’s poster.
With each film being expected to reel in a mass reception due to the star-studded cast lineups to the big name directors and the unbelievable budget for the film marketing, the movies became the talk of the town. Many debated whether both movies were worth the watch and which would they watch first. We, the writers of Echo Media, also have our own opinions about the discourse, so if you need convincing of which movie to watch, continue reading!
Yay (For Barbie):
I knew I would love Barbie before I even saw the movie. When it was announced in 2019, I knew I would love it. When I saw the first cast photos in early 2022, I knew I would love it. And I’ve got to say, it’s a great film. I loved Barbie, I think a lot of people did. It’s brilliantly written and extremely inventive. It’s brought back the iconic charm of romcoms of the 2000s to a modern audience. And as Claire Loughrey said for The Independent, “a testament to what can be achieved within even the deepest bowels of capitalism.”
The whole film, from start to finish, is unapologetically pink. Even everyone at my day-one watch was dressed to the nines in pink. And I think seeing a colour, which has been universally ridiculed for being feminine, seen by practically every movie-goer is heartwarming. I adore all of the costuming, the set design and the props. Almost everything looked like it came right out of one of my old Barbie Dreamhouse sets from when I was six. And I understand that the movie was wholly about the women, but let me just compliment Ryan Gosling’s Ken for a moment. He was amazing, his role was perfectly acted and I think would be a great candidate for the Supporting Actor Oscar next year. He was so good to the point I have been annoying my friends for the past month by singing I’m Just Ken and Push, over and over again.
I could sing the Barbie movies’ praises for hours, but it doesn’t sound like me if I don’t talk about some sort of discourse surrounding it. I do want to briefly touch on the feminist narrative that permeates throughout the flick. I don’t want to get into the whole Ben Shapiro, conservative, how the film is secretly about hating men because all of that is overly discussed; I want to talk about how feminism is portrayed. Many of those in certain internet circles have spoken up and said that the film is too… shallow, that it doesn’t dive deep enough into the complexities of the feminist critique. That it falls flat on its face because it doesn’t properly criticise the patriarchy.
I was discussing this issue with my friends and we all agreed that in every social discourse, there is an inherent elitism. That if you can’t keep up with all the deep complexities of said issue, you don’t get a voice at all. I believe that this is the foundation for most of the feminist critiques of the Barbie movie. I won’t deny that the movie did treat womanhood as an overarching group and it didn’t go into the specifics of intersectionality and such. But, as someone who loves to talk and study the intricacies of the feminist movement, of course, the message was obvious to me. Still, so many people I know had epiphanies and realisations about how the patriarchy works while watching this movie. Everyone can watch the Barbie movie and understand the politics, maybe even spark an interest in identity politics.
At the end of the day, I want to ask those who say that Barbie was too “low brow” of a feminist critique; what about those little girls who are getting their first introduction to the patriarchy and feminism? Or those women who don’t know or don’t bother to learn about their oppression, do they not deserve a starting point, too? It’s easy to diss this film from the small bubble that most exist in, but the reality is that the Barbie movie is being screened on a global scale and it takes a complex issue such as feminism and makes it palatable for those who would shy away or dismiss these conversations. Because what we need right now is accessible progressive media.
Turning away from that very serious conversation, let me just compliment the movie a little more. I love the fact that it wasn’t Barbie that saved Barbieland but Gloria, Sasha and the other Barbies as well. It was a nice touch to say that not all big problems can be solved by the individual (Barbie) but by the collective (everyone else). I just really liked that.
The way the movie weaved the mother-daughter, Gloria and Sasha story was wonderfully done. To be honest, I cried a little (cough, four times) throughout, the relationship between Gloria and Sasha hit particularly hard. As a seventeen-year-old, seeing the tween Sasha go through an angsty phase where she was cold to her mother, just like I did in grade eight, hurt quite a bit.
In a nutshell, I think the Barbie movie is going to go down in history as a cult classic. It’s garnered a wide audience, half that sings its praises and the other half goes on podcasts to talk about how the flick is anti-male. Greta Gerwig, the director, did a great job of translating such an iconic doll into a phenomenal film.
As a long-time fan of Greta Gerwig’s works, I was definitely amongst the crowd of people that were indescribably hyped up for the release of Barbie. When this article idea was pitched to me, I was convinced that it was going to be a full, pink sweep. After all, I’d absolutely adored Lady Bird, and I found Little Women to be really charming as well – and after watching Barbie, I can say for certain that I… have really mixed feelings about this movie.
But first, let’s talk about the great stuff!
First of all, one thing I loved about Barbie is that everything about it was a spectacle. From the costume and set design, to the acting choices, to even the hype surrounding it, you can tell that everyone involved in this movie had loads of fun doing it. It’s hard to find movies nowadays that have nearly as much fun and charm as Barbie does, and it’s much harder to find movies that are willing to go all-out in many of the ways that Barbie did – especially with each new film in theatres playing increasingly safer than the last (cough, cough, Marvel). So, as someone who’s constantly rooting for anything that pushes the boundaries of the creative industry, there’s no way I wouldn’t give my kudos to Barbie for drawing crowds to and revitalising our local theatres!
Moreover, the acting performances were perfect. Margot Robbie as Stereotypical Barbie was, of course, stellar, but I can’t talk about this movie without talking about Ken. Ironically enough, in the Barbie movie, one of the things I loved most was what they did with Ken and his story arc. I found it absolutely hilarious that they allowed Ken to be a terrible, manosphere-supporting scumbag, but I also found the message underneath to be what really pushed the envelope to what this film was trying to say (in a positive way!).
This is something I’ve seen time and time again – so many young men that I’ve come to know feeling trapped in their loneliness, and as such, turning to the patriarchy for their salvation. They turn into people that you can’t recognise anymore. Harassing women, enforcing patriarchal ideals, perceiving women as, inherently, below men – without even recognising that the patriarchy is what’s pushing them to these extents of isolation and loneliness in the first place. Men are told, by the patriarchy, that they can’t feel, that they always have to be powerful; and just like Ken, when they feel voiceless, or when they can’t get what they want, they can’t cope with it healthily. They need to be above someone to really feel like a man, so women get caught in the crossfire, without it really curing the source of their helplessness.
What this movie is telling young men (a message they’re hopefully getting from the movie) is that everybody falls victim to the patriarchy, and enforcing it won’t fix you either. You can’t form your identity around being the “Alpha” or being “more powerful” than women, you need to be Kenough on your own.
(Also, bonus points for the mild, homoerotic subtext between Ryan Gosling’s Ken and Simu Liu’s Ken. Seriously, I was expecting them to start making out for the whole movie.)
(Even more bonus points just for Ryan Gosling’s sheer dedication to playing Ken. I’ll admit, I was doubtful at first, but he really embodied everything about Ken in every way imaginable.)
I’d also like to add, just as an endnote, that my favourite scene in the movie is the scene where Barbie tells the old woman at the bus stop that she’s beautiful. Out of everything in the film, I came to love the message about the inherent beauty of living and aging and having imperfections and just generally being human the most! The messaging was heart-warming, and I felt inclined to call my mom immediately after watching the movie. Few films can get me this home-sick, so good for you, Greta Gerwig!
Nay (For Oppenheimer):
Before you get to read about Oppenheimer, I have to talk more about Barbie. I liked it, don’t get me wrong, but less in a “masterpiece of our generation” kind of way, and more in a “3.5/5 on Letterboxd” kind of way – and hear me out!
I think that my main complaint about Barbie does, unfortunately, lie in the writing – which is a shame, because I would’ve loved to see what this movie could’ve been like without studio constraints! Due to the fact that Barbie is ultimately tied down to the Mattel brand, I found myself thinking, at several points throughout the movie, that the movie was playing safe in a lot of ways. Let’s start with the feminism. Frankly, I’m surprised that so many manosphere podcasters and misogynists got so heated over this movie – promoting it as some sort of “feminist uprising”, when this was a really watered down, family-friendly brand of feminism.
Not that I wanted it to go into the deep-rooted, structural problems with our patriarchy or anything, but I just wish it did something I’d never seen before, or at least tried something more experimental with conveying the message. However, it just ended up feeling a bit phoned in at times, like a Buzzfeed listicle, which I found especially true during the parts where they had to undo the brainwashing of the other Barbies, and just started a straight-up monologue about the average problems women have to face. Like, I definitely relate to the message – I just wish it could’ve been done in a more interesting way.
(By the way, not to compare, because these are two entirely different movies – but if you want to see a film that tackles the problems with misogyny and the exploitation of women among men, done in an exceedingly creative and eye-opening way – you’re going to need to watch Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. This is especially true if you’re a guy. Watch it. Do your homework. It’s great, trust me.)
I’d mentioned this while discussing the movie with one of my friends, but I think that the lack of risks taken by the movie can definitely be credited to Mattel’s control over the situation. Ultimately, to Mattel, Barbie serves to function as an ad – so Barbie still needs to be friendly and marketable to the average consumer, so she’s not allowed to have as much of an experimental and creative character arc as, say, Ken. My friend had argued that this, in itself, was shown in the movie, through the portrayal of the all-male board of directors of Mattel’s offices in the film. Still, pointing out something doesn’t necessarily fix the problem at all, and I think the portrayal of them as bumbling, but ultimately harmless idiots, does make it seem like more of an “incompetence” issue with Mattel, rather than a direct, capitalistic one.
Ultimately, it met my expectations, but just didn’t take enough creative risks to go beyond it – which is disappointing, because I would lose my mind over a rendition of this film that wasn’t carefully constructed to be as non-offensive as it was by Mattel’s executives.
To be completely honest, I did not go into Oppenheimer thinking I would like it better than Barbie. I don’t watch a lot of movies, and embarrassingly, I have never watched a film by Christopher Nolan before. When I do watch movies, action filled science movies are never what I would go for. Clearly, Oppenheimer was a delightful surprise that kept me turning my brain over every slight detail in the film.
The biopic starts off abruptly. From the first scene alone, pressures are high, as audiences are thrown into a whirlwind of questionings on topics that we have yet to gain insight in. As the storyline builds, it’s chaotic and all over the place as the plotline jumps back and forth between a twenty-year gap. The confusion that is signature to any Christopher Nolan movie is apparent but necessary in the movie. The unruliness of the movie creates the perfect build up to the (literal) boom of the climax. It perfectly depicts the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, his journey with the atomic bomb and how it affected him in an entertaining and nerve-wracking manner.
I would admit the movie is hard to grasp. Without a basic foundation of history and science (more specifically quantum physics), most of the movie would probably just be gibberish. But, the movie touches on much more than that, depicting the personal and trivial conflicts that Oppenheimer faced while making his way to becoming the one to end the worldwide conflict. From navigating the life of being a father and as husband to facing the loss of his secret lover to the inhumane conditions of the Manhattan Project, it is as amazing as it is horrifying to view how his life played out. The intense and in-your-face reenactment of Oppenheimer’s actions which are directly followed by its consequences years in the future make you feel almost suffocated in the midst of it all.
I would say that this movie is perfect for anyone who wants to watch a serious and heavy masterpiece. Each scene comes with reason and no second is wasted within the full three-hour film. The movie leaves you frazzled (in a good way) and questioning everything that you have pictured about the world. While it may not be for everyone, I’d say it is so worth it to learn about the first atomic bomb and how its creator, figuratively, went up in flames.
How’d you find both movies? Really, this article is less of a Barbie vs. Oppenheimer, and, much like the hype around these films, is more of a Barbie and Oppenheimer article, highlighting the best of both films. It’s always amazing to see films made with so much passion and creativity, and trying to push the envelope on the constraints of the medium, generating this much popularity. So, whichever team you’re on, maybe give the other a try! You might just have yourself your top two movies of the year.
By the way, if you’re free, catch the new Saw and Paw Patrol movies coming out in theatres soon, both on the same day. Who knows, maybe it’ll be just as good.
Written By: Natalie, Mei & Trezshur