Barbenheimer: Our Generation’s Greatest Movie-Going Phenomena?


Two of the best filmmakers of our generation releasing their films together on the same day, both with a highly stacked cast of A-list actors and actresses and some of the most incredible talent behind the scenes. On top of that, all the online hype and press tours for the movies have made Barbenheimer-day one of my most anticipated moviegoing experiences ever.

As an avid movie fan, I have been waiting for this day for months since they announced that the two films would be released on the same day. Christopher Nolan’s pictures, like Memento, Inception, and Interstellar, have been the early inspiration for my interest in film, and I have also been witnessing Greta Gerwig’s growing body of work as writer-director over the past few years with Lady Bird and Little Women.

Stepping on the train to Manchester at 9am in the morning in a full pink outfit, I was still doubting whether I have the Kenergy to experience this monumental event of the century – the Barbie-Oppenheimer double bill, or as the internet has dubbed it, ‘Barbenheimer’.

At Vue Manchester, the staff members, as well as many cinemagoers, were also dressed up in themed outfits for the occasion.

After getting myself Barbie-themed candyfloss and popcorn, I was all set to get into my seat.

11:45. Barbie time.

Greta introduces us to Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, who experiences an existential crisis and has to go to the real world to find out how to fix her issues. Whereas Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, follows Barbie into the real world and discovers ‘patriarchy’.

I have never owned a Barbie toy in my life but Gerwig’s work left me entranced. This film could have easily been just a fish-out-of-water comedy, but Gerwig, alongside Noah Baumbach, found a way to meditate on the meaning of being human and the generational pain of the female experience.

Both writers respect the subject material of Barbie being an inspiration to many women in the world while taking jabs at its problematic histories with consumerism and creating unachievable beauty standards.

There have been stories on how Gerwig has fought for her directorial vision against the studios and Mattel, and I’m glad that her vision is kept intact. Mattel should be thanking Gerwig for her film that basically reconfigures what Barbie represents to the public.

Robbie’s performance is note-perfect. After having given one of her career-best performances as Nellie LaRoy in Babylon, she knocks it out of the park once again as Stereotypical Barbie. Robbie is the emotional core of the story, as we follow her as she leaves the perfection of Barbieland and explores the imperfections and challenges in the real world.

Everyone who doubted Gosling’s Kenergy should definitely apologise. He has proven himself to be the perfect Ken, with an equal amount of stupidity and charm. His comedic chops are once again shown perfectly on screen following his performances in Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Nice Guys. It is absolutely a highlight to see him sing and dance in the musical number, performing ‘I’m Just Ken’ in a dreamy dance battle.

Other performances that stand out include America Ferrera’s ‘Gloria’, who delivers a heart-wrenching monologue about her experience as a woman. Her genuine acting is a perfect showcase of the ingenuity of the script. Will Ferrell as Mattel CEO is just effortlessly funny in every scene.

Gerwig’s attempt to recreate the traditional beauty of practical sets from the old Hollywood soundstage musicals is everything I have dreamt of. Barbieland is pure magic thanks to the immaculate production design team led by Sarah Greenwood, recreating Barbie dream houses and bringing painted backdrops back into fashion.

The attention to detail of changing Barbie’s clothes and hairstyle throughout the day illustrates how much Gerwig cares about Barbie as a film that showcases how people play with dolls.

The soundtrack for Barbie is something I will loop on my Spotify for quite a few weeks. ‘I’m Just Ken’ is such a charming musical number with Gosling showcasing his vocal talent, and Billie Eilish’s ‘What Was I Made For?’ left me in tears the moment it played in the film.

Still, I really want to know what the score be like if Alexandre Desplat had not exited the project before Mark Ronson took over.

You can see Barbie as a fun, beautiful-looking movie, but to me, it’s so much more than that. Barbie is a celebration of film and what film can do to the audience – a communal experience at the cinema where you can laugh and cry with other strangers in a room. It drives conversations on what Barbie represents and modern societal issues we are dealing with. It doesn’t shy away from its layered themes while not being too in-your-face with them.

Barbie succeeded in achieving what it has set out to do and I walked out the theatre feeling that I am Kenough.

3pm: Oppenheimer

Having typed out some of my thoughts on Letterboxd, it was already 3pm and the countdown was over for Oppenheimer.

I walked into the completely sold-out screening of Oppenheimer, projected in 70mm IMAX film, and sat right in the middle of the first row. I was ready for a straight three hours with my neck bent upwards.

Oppenheimer is a biographical thriller that details the life of the father of the atomic bomb, J Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy in his first leading role in a Nolan movie.

Nolan weaves several storylines non-linearly, including the events that led up to the Trinity test, Oppenheimer’s security hearings and the hearings of Lewis Strauss, played by Robert Downey Jr.

Nolan utilises black-and-white against coloured sequences once again since Memento but, this time around, he puts the coloured sequences as the subjective lens from Oppenheimer, and the black-and-white from a more objective lens that focuses more on Strauss.

It was good to know the distinction going into the film, as it can get confusing at times.

It’s a haunting story about a complex man that granted the world the power to destroy themselves. Nolan portrayed Oppenheimer’s paradoxical mindset – he wants to achieve peace but the only solution is to create a weapon of mass destruction.

The film doesn’t stop at the moment of the success of the bomb, it also focuses on Oppenheimer’s sense of regret afterward. There’s a haunting scene where Oppenheimer delivers a speech and Nolan shows his visions of the destruction of the bomb, which is a moment that will leave a lasting impact on the audience.

The message of Oppenheimer couldn’t be more appropriate, at the peak of development of artificial intelligence. AI is, in some ways, similar to the atomic bomb, as continuing to develop it will be beneficial for scientific advancement, but may become too much of a destructive weapon for the world.

What I found the most intriguing were the moments of subjectivity through Oppenheimer’s eyes, where surreal elements are implemented into the film. The reality is destroyed using some intriguing in-camera techniques that I am still baffled by how Nolan has achieved them.

The film would not have worked if not for Cillian Murphy’s Oscar-worthy performance. Murphy’s face (especially his jawline) often occupies the whole of the IMAX screen in a lot of close-ups, and you stare directly into his eyes and find just all the complex emotions of Oppenheimer. Nolan has a lot of confidence in Murphy delivering such a performance through all the close-ups, and it paid off.

Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema use the IMAX format in such a different way compared to any other film. It’s not used to create the sense of scale with wide angles, but instead, focuses on the face of Murphy. It creates tension and intensity by boxing the characters in the frame, you’re just witnessing every bit of emotion in his face.

The image presented on the screen was never this crisp before thanks to the gorgeous 70mm film projection. It is amazing how Kodak specifically engineered the black-and-white film used to film the picture. Nolan and his team also have a fair share of experimentation in terms of creating the visions of the bomb through practical effects rather than CGI, which does look very impressive and realistic.

This film might be the best editing I’ve seen for a Nolan film, thanks to Jennifer Lame. Nolan script is dense as it always has been, with a lot of explanation with scientific jargons. However, with Lame’s editing, the sequences become exciting and intriguing. I haven’t felt such intensity in a film without really understanding all the science behind it. The three-hour film with a lot of talking completely flew by.

Ludwig Göransson’s powerful orchestral score is his best to date. The film pretty much does not has a moment where there is no music and I could feel the overpowering feeling of the score throughout. Nolan’s sound mixing has often been criticised for his more recent works, especially for Tenet, but Oppenheimer sounds absolutely amazing in the IMAX cinema I was in.

One criticism I’ll give on Oppenheimer is a usual flaw with Nolan – the underdeveloped female characters. Florence Pugh and Emily Blunt were great in their roles, but they were not given the screen time to shine. They were just deemed as Oppenheimer’s partners and put to the side throughout the film.

Still, Oppenheimer is one of Nolan’s best work in recent years, and has exceeded my expectations.  The shorter but haunting surreal bits make me very excited about the possibility of a horror film from Nolan some time in the future.

Barbenheimer And Hope For The Future

Coming off Barbenheimer, I was completely in awe of the work of the two modern auteurs, Gerwig and Nolan. Under such looming uncertainty about the film industry after the COVID-19 pandemic and the concerns about AI, it is inspiring to see Barbie and Oppenheimer to receive such a resounding success over the opening weekend.

The two have grossed a combined £29.4 million in the UK and Ireland over the weekend according to Comscore, and over £400 million worldwide according to Variety. Barbie also made history by breaking the record for the biggest debut opening weekend for a film directed by a woman.

Cinema is back and thriving and the Barbenheimer phenomenon will definitely be remembered throughout the ages for its impact on the film industry. However, amidst the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, it is important that the studio executive share the success of their movies to their writers and actors. The work of writers and actors are essential for films and hopefully the AMPTP will listen to the writers and actors’ demands for a fair deal at such a turning point for the industry.

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