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“Barbenheimer’s” Explosive Effect on Cinema

Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” have forged a divisive cinematic war in theaters across America during the summer of 2023. 

While “Oppenheimer” depicts the life story of the controversial nuclear bomb inventor, “Barbie” highlights the universal experience of womanhood and what that means for the modern day world. 

The two films trended on multiple social media platforms after it was discovered they shared a release date, with meme pages coining the term “Barbenheimer” to commemorate the event.  Both movies soared to the top of the box office, with “Oppenheimer” generating $500 million dollars globally and “Barbie” raking in $900 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter

Many Oklahoma Christian students flocked to the theaters this summer to experience the cinematic spectacle for themselves. 

Junior Elijah Coyle said one of his greatest takeaways from “Oppenheimer” was its commentary on the relationship between creator and creation.

“I think ‘Oppenheimer’ works very well as a cautionary tale of thinking through the things you’re creating,” Coyle said. “It’s impossible to fully know the consequences when you’re making something that could change the world, but the way a creation could be used is something every creator needs to consider.”

Coyle also said the message of this film is timely, especially when considering the recent developments in artificial intelligence. 

“Even the creators of ChatGPT are scared of what this thing [AI] can do now,” Coyle said. “The thing ‘Oppenheimer’ warns the most about is the unintended consequences of creation.” 

“Barbie,” however, chooses to discuss entirely different unintended consequences: that of patriarchy, and what it means for the women who live under it.

Junior Ali Richardson said she appreciates how many facets of womanhood “Barbie” explores.    

“When [the character] Gloria made her speech about womanhood, the emotion I felt was frustration and kinship to the other women who have to experience it,” Richardson said. “The film touches on how being a woman is a beautiful hardship and extraordinary in and of itself, even without having done something conventionally ‘extraordinary.’” 

Sophomore Ali Salazar said the film extends a message that applies to many different types of women. 

“A woman can do anything she wants, and that’s still powerful,” Salazar said. “She could want to be a stay-at-home mom, or not a mom, or a mom and a doctor. She just has to claim that power for herself.” 

Junior Ashlyn Pendergrass said the film’s message resonated with her even as a Christian woman. 

“While I do follow traditional gender roles in my marriage and faith, I really appreciate the way the movie addressed the contradictions of being a woman head on,” Pendergrass said.

Both films received glowing reviews, with “Barbie” scoring an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and “Oppenheimer” inching ahead with an impressive 94%. 

 Coyle said “Oppenheimer” encapsulates a certain type of anxiety that adds to its emotional weight and potency.

“We see Oppenheimer’s fear that he did indeed set off a chain reaction that would destroy the world,” Coyle said. “[It] perfectly captures the fear of the terrible power he was responsible for bringing into the world.”

  Richardson said “Barbie” also effectively communicates its message with an emotional punch. 

“The main thing I took away from the movie is that women are extraordinary and beautiful, even with all the things we put ourselves and others down for,” Richardson said. 

Despite their wildly different messages and aesthetics, “Barbenheimer” is truly a cinematic experience that must be seen to be believed.

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