Film – Barbie and Oppenheimer: A Review of Hollywood’s recent Blockbusters
The 20th and 21st of July this year saw the release of two highly anticipated movies: Barbie, and Oppenheimer.
In many respects the movies stand in stark contrast: one is upbeat and funny, relating to the life of a plastic doll forced to enter the ‘real world’; and the other is about the development (and use) of the atomic bomb, and the troubled life of one of its creators.
However, what the movies have in common is this: they both concern creations which made a significant mark on history, and about which many people have conflicting feelings. More importantly, they are also both thoroughly enjoyable movies to watch, each in their own way.
A review of the Barbie movie
Watch the trailer here.
It’s unlikely you escaped the hype about Barbie. According to some reports, more was spent on advertising the movie than actually making it. It’s certainly paid off commercially, generating in excess of US$1 billion at the box office so far.
Barbie is centred on the life of the eponymous plastic doll, who lives in ‘Barbie Land’. Barbie Land is a feminine utopia, dyed with the colour pink, where it’s the “’‘best day ever’ every day, from now until forever”.
In these early moments in the movie, viewers will be entranced by the visual feast, and infected with the high spirits of Barbie and her pals. But it’s not all sunshine and Dream Houses forever – unfortunately, things start going awry, including because Barbie develops cellulite and flat feet. To get to the bottom of what’s gone wrong, and to put it right, Barbie has to venture into the ‘real world’.
It’s from this point in the movie that another figure takes centre stage – Ken – Barbie’s masculine, albeit largely useless, sidekick. Ken accompanies Barbie to the ‘real world’ and discovers a lot to like, at least from his perspective: most notably, ‘the patriarchy’, and horses. Ken decides he’d like to import these ideas back into Barbie Land. Hilarity ensues.
I won’t give away the rest of the plot, other than to say that Barbie shows us that, despite being as artificial as they come (she is, after all, made of plastic), she can teach us a thing or two about ‘reality’. In particular, it’s the gender plot of Barbie that makes it more than just a fun movie and gives viewers something to think about.
Overall, I’d give Barbie 4/5 stars. It’s fun, breezy (short at 1.5 hours), and provides a unique take on an old icon.
A review of the Oppenheimer movie
Watch the trailer here.
The name ‘Oppenheimer’ is more likely to have escaped you, but the impact of his creation haunts us all. Dr Robert Oppenheimer was an esteemed physicist and Director of the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Laboratory during World War Two. He played a key role in the development of the atomic bomb.
As befits its subject matter, Oppenheimer is a decidedly serious movie. However, it’s thankfully not all nuclear physics, death and destruction; the movie also offers a window into the life of Dr Oppenheimer himself, from his development as a homesick student at Cambridge, to his life as a Professor and man.
A significant part of the movie traces the genesis of the atomic bomb, from the basic idea in theoretical physics, to its actual development during the war. Of course, the first test of the bomb, and its use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are pivotal parts of the film. But so too, later on, is Oppenheimer’s moral ambivalence, and then opposition, to use of the weapon.
Another significant strand in the film concerns Dr Oppenheimer’s relationships with Jean Tatlock and Katherine ‘Kitty’ Oppenheimer, both of whom were members of the Communist Party. It’s Oppenheimer’s connections to them, and his leftist sympathies, which ultimately land him in trouble with the authorities in post-war McCarthyite America. This results in a series of hearings probing Oppenheimer, involving plenty of heated cross-examination, which lead to Oppenheimer losing his security clearance. It’s an ignominious ending for the once-vaunted Oppenheimer.
Overall, I’d also give Oppenheimer 4/5 stars. It is a rich movie that brings history to life, offering a revealing portrait of one of history’s intellectual greats. But with a 3-hour run-time, make sure you’re well rested for this one!