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Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

OPINION: The collision of two worlds may impact cinema as we know it

Courtesy of Reagan Jones and Gabrielle Caumon
An illustration of the ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon.

Cinema came back to life July 21, 2023, with the release of an improbable cinematic duo: “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” This crossover made of pink and black was a successful meeting on the silver screen. Nevertheless, “Oppenheimer” stands out, being in my opinion the greatest movie made in 2023. 

This contrasted combination of the iconic doll “Barbie” with the “father of the atomic bomb” lived up to expectations. As a matter of fact, the pop-culture sensation known online as “Barbenheimer” generated more than $235.5 million at the domestic box office on opening weekend.                                                

The cinematic event definitely energized movie theaters, which have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. The online community built anticipation for this double release. They let their creativity run free through all kinds of illustrations and designs, uniting elements from both worlds. The trend continued to expand with popularity, resulting in a pop-culture phenomenon. Now, “Barbenheimer” has a trailer, “I survived Barbenheimer 2023” T-shirts and various film posters – including Oppenheimer with a pink nuclear explosion in the background or Barbie on Oppenheimer’s shoulder.

“I thought Barbenheimer was great because it was a way to get people back in movie theaters,” junior Jack Hennessy said. “Most people would rather watch a movie at home but Barbenheimer had people get out.”

Enthusiasts immersed themselves into the experience in numerous ways. Some dressed in pink to watch “Barbie” while others drank a black coffee with a cigarette before seeing “Oppenheimer”–if the shoe fits, wear it!

“Barbie” put the emphasis on reaching a bigger audience with their marketing campaign, budgeting more than $150 million for promotion alone. Warner Bros. allocated more money into the advertising than the production of the movie itself.   

Warner Bros. remarkably used all of the shades of pink as a recognizable reference. Among other things, they invested in a Barbie’s DreamHouse AirBnb in Malibu, the launch of a limited Pink Barbie Burger in Burger King Brazil and life-sized Barbie boxes in theaters for people to take pictures. Through these marketing techniques,“Barbie” caught the public eye even before its release. 

More than one billion Barbies have been sold worldwide. The “Barbie” movie had an advantage before it came out, considering that nearly everyone links her to their childhood. 

The iconic doll is not only loved because it has been on our shelves since 1959, but also because she represents the “perfection” that every little girl wants to reach. It is innovative that Gerwig chose to move away from the original and repetitive animation scripts, giving more substance to the cinema. However, I believe humanizing her in the movie with ‘fears of failures’ and ‘not being enough’, minimizes the ambition that pushes us to do better. Since the dawn of time, people have had this need to idealize heroes to have a purpose. Of course ‘perfect’ does not exist in humanity, therefore icons like Barbie are created in the first place. Abandoning the idea that Barbie can be everything takes hope away from young girls: If not even Barbie feels worthy as she is, how are we supposed to perceive ourselves?

Alternatively, interest in “Oppenheimer” was based on the international recognition for Christopher Nolan’s films. 

Even though the composition of the cast of “Oppenheimer” houses over a dozen big names – Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon – not everyone understands and appreciates Nolan’s complex approach to cinema. 

“Oppenheimer” is oriented toward the cinephile with a 3-hour runtime, a strong quality of shot composition and an intense storyline.

It seems to me that Nolan focuses more on the artistic aspect of a movie, using his unconventional unique ideas. I like directors that follow their intuition, willing to take risks by not being scared of owning their vision. 

I felt extremely affected by this movie. This summer, I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. To be exposed to the consequences of Oppenheimer’s creation – through accurate historical pictures, stories and objects found – was devastating. It was particularly striking to see the suffering of innocent citizens, many of whom were children that did not choose to be in this war. 

The depth of the subject matter was one of the reasons many people didn’t want to watch the movie – it is cinema that makes us think. Indeed, Nolan emphasizes the idea that proper use of nuclear power can be the greatest innovation in human history, but the most destructive in the wrong hands.

Nolan directing decisions intentionally excluded part of the general audience. Keeping the elaborate scientific vocabulary was one of those choices. I felt immersed, as if I was among the scientists, adding to my captivation of not understanding every word employed. The powerful sensation of the Trinity nuclear bomb test in the first row of an IMAX theater particularly amplified the disturbing position I was in, witnessing the horrific events knowing the repercussions that followed. 

By making the choice not to directly show the impact of the bomb, Nolan plunges us into the horrifying psychological spiral Oppenheimer went through, haunted for giving humanity the power to destroy themselves. 

I admire Nolan’s precision of details. He went so far as to make allusions to official documents used. I recognized the Target Committee military document from the film, which had all the analysis on the potential dropping targets.   

Overall, both creative teams decided to preserve the vibrancy of the cinema. They made the choice not to release “Barbie” or “Oppenheimer” on streaming platforms. They wanted the most immersive experience for their audience. 

“Both movies were great in the cinema because they were different experiences,” St. Edward’s Film Club president Bruno Echt Fusaro said. “What is so cool about Oppenheimer is hearing all the sounds and having all the visual scenes because it has a bigger impact on you than watching it on TV. With Barbie, it’s being with an engaging audience that you can hear laughing along with you at the funny jokes.”

The hype “Barbenheimer” created around this double feature emphasized commercial competition, making the release of the films more appealing. It also had quite an impact on the cinema industry, arriving just in time to lift up the box office, which has been fragile as of late.        

The challenge has been completed: Between singing “I’m Just Ken” with Ryan Gosling and witnessing the creation of the most devastating weapon mankind has ever created, there’s something for everyone. Pick your poison!

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About the Contributor
Gabrielle Caumon
Gabrielle Caumon, Staff Writer
Gabrielle Caumon is a junior from Paris, France, who is pursuing a major in the BFA Acting program and a minor in Journalism. This is her second semester writing for Hilltop Views and her first as a Staff Writer. She loves writing for the Life & Arts section, and is excited to branch out and try out other genres.

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