The Barbenheimer Experience


I don’t believe there’s too many spoilers in here besides what you should already know about world history and basic knowledge of Barbie and feminism.

For many the concept of witnessing both Barbie and Oppenheimer in the same day has undertaken a phenomenon akin to witnessing a solar eclipse, a sensational event that has people willing to dedicate the majority of their day to watching the two films in whichever order they choose. There’s Christopher Nolan’s endeavor to unfurl the life of the father of the atomic bomb, a weapon of mass destruction that remains influential to the state of affairs in our current world, and then we have Gret Gerwig’s Barbie, a film about the anthropomorphized set of dolls meant for those aged three to twelve, their realization of a bigger purpose within the world, and expanding comprehension of female agency amidst the patriarchy. Together, in an odd sort of fascination, watching these two films creates the Barbenheimer Experience. And what better way to dig into this experience than by seeing how these films, when seen back to back, somehow share similarities under such drastic tonal differences.  

This seems like a great idea on the surface, but what does the Barbenheimer Experience leave us with? How will audiences who indulged 4 hours and 54 minutes of two tonally opposite films react when they finally step out into the open air again?

In unison, are these two films striving for a sense of understanding? An analysis of the taciturn minds we find ourselves sequestered to. Could they both be propelling us to comprehend the unforgiving nature of American innovation and scientific achievement, a constant race to achieve the best, only to realize that we are the ones to blame for the creation of our fears?

 Perhaps watching both Barbie and Oppenheimer leads to a sense of realization about the world we have inherited, and our innate nature to seek solace in an environment where we see no faults, no death and destruction. A perfect world where everything is pink and everyone is beautiful and nothing can hurt us or go wrong.  

Or, maybe it’s just something people who spend too much time on the internet want to do, and once they leave cinemas—a champion of the Barbenheimer Experience—they will think about how much fun that was. How incredible it is that two blockbuster films released on the same day and they were witnesses to cinematic history. Robert Oppenheimer and Barbie, a connection the world never knew it needed.

1. Barbenheimer

There is no correct order to watching these films, contrary to whatever is being touted online.  

Oppenheimer first, then Barbie. 

Barbie, then Oppenheimer. 

Half of Oppenheimer and then a sprint over to a theater showing Barbie, followed by a sprint back to another theater to finish Oppenheimer. 

This does not matter. The world is your oyster here. There are more intuitive choices to be made when going through Barbenheimer. 

You want to position yourself at a distance for Oppenheimer. Be as far from the screen as you possibly can. Here, you are a voyeur into Oppenhimer’s life. Witness his triumphs; his mistakes. Give yourself some distance to completely absorb the creation of the atomic bomb, the evocable images of Oppenheimer’s nightmares surrounding the detonation of nuclear fission and fusion morphing together on a screen 50 feet high. Witness one of the most prolific scientists in history’s struggle to corral his personal beliefs and genius until the country he loved turned their back to him.  

Then for Barbie, do the opposite. We want to be as close as physically possible. I’m talking close enough for seared retinas from the amount of blonde and pink hues, the lingering scent of Banana Boat and hairspray somehow permeating through the screen. A crystal clear image of Margot Robbie’s feet, Gosling’s spray-tanned abs. Barbie dolls are about interaction, proximity to these molds of what perfection is supposed to look like. Close proximity grants us a better chance of understanding the subservient roles often placed upon women in our society and the juxtaposition of the utopia created in BarbieLand. 

Personally, my brave group and I viewed Oppenheimer first. We experienced the beautifully structured thralls of Oppenheimer’s life, his enduring gift of unlimited destruction to a country he loved, and his subsequent ostracization from the scientific community for his personal beliefs. Nolan’s creative choices are superb. The best of his heralded career. We had an hour gap and processed what we’d seen. Then we were gifted with Barbie, Greta Gerwig’s expertly developed discourse about female empowerment and conforming to the ideals perpetuated by a world that these Barbies have no say in controlling. 

When the Barbenheimer Experience was over, I wasn’t quite sure what to feel. It was amazing to watch two amazing films in a single day, but just as Barbie becomes sentient to existential thoughts of death, and in the way Oppenheimer reeled in silence from his attempts to control the very weapon he unleashed, I was conflicted.

2. Aftermath

Together, as the Barbenheimer Experience, existentialism abounds. Themes of the creation and destruction of two worlds conveyed as perfect are at the forefront of these films, and relatively, our place amidst these trifling ideals, the humanity of it all. 

Oppenheimer’s life’s work granted the world the ability to destroy itself, his creation destroyed the old world and created a new one seized by weapons of mass destruction. And as ridiculous as this may seem to compare, Barbie unleashes a weapon of her own upon BarbieLand, the concepts contained in the real world, harrowing conceptualization and stereotypes of women that have not yet infected her utopia.

The juxtaposition of both Oppenheimer and Barbie as creators largely contrasts how both stand in their own way when attempting to conform to the roles they have been placed within. They are pioneers in their respective, drastically different worlds, yet both are exiled based on what they’ve discovered. The perception of what these two characters have done to alter their respective worlds shares an oddly clear connection, I hope. 

Oppenheimer was punished for trying to control the power of atomic fire he unleashed. 

Barbie was punished for trying to control and alter her own subjugation. 

Both changed their worlds, one for the benefit of women and the expectations society has placed upon them, and the other in a horrifying way he wished to ultimately contain but never could. 

Oppenheimer and Barbie are two films that were never intended to be viewed, and analyzed, so closely together. But the themes they share, although perhaps not obvious to many, are present. Creating worlds, destroying them, both at a level that could consume the entire globe, and at the personal level, the individual opinions of women in a society that often places them in a box they shouldn’t be in. Creation and destruction. Beauty and death. What more could anyone want? 

Just go see both of these films. The Barbenheimer Experience is great and an incredibly weird event to be apart of, it requires strong mental fortitude and a fair amount of drinking, but at the end of it, you get a free t-shirt!

Image Sources: 


Deviant Art

East Idaho News


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