On the 21st of July, I prepared myself for the biggest match-up of the summer. No, not the women’s World Cup. Not the Athletics World Championship. Something infinitely more important – in my eyes anyway. Introducing the two favourite new releases with juxtaposing aesthetics that produced a mass of ‘Barbenheimer’ edits. When worlds collided: Barbie vs. Oppenheimer.
Both Greta Gerwig (dir. Barbie) and Christopher Nolan (dir. Oppenheimer) are prolific in their own right and have a sizeable catalogue of work behind them. Both have styles worthy of auteurship to be dissected. So, let’s dissect.
Gerwig paints the idyllic setting of Barbieland with brightly-coloured plastic set(master)pieces, starkly contrasting with scenes in the much bleaker real world. Clever and often heart-warming dialogue make for an interesting watch, and the fitting soundtrack should not be overlooked. The casting is perfect: Margot Robbie is Barbie, as Helen Mirren’s narration astutely points out, and Ryan Gosling steals the show in every scene he’s in – I’m Just Ken will be remembered for time to come, I’m sure.
By contrast, Nolan crafts the bleak brownness of the American South in the 1940s, creating a world in which Oppenheimer frequently finds himself in isolation not just from others, but from a society that will ultimately reject him for his actions. The whole three hours is an intense watch but so rewarding if you completely immerse yourself. Like Barbie, Oppenheimer has a similarly star-studded cast, notably with Robert Downey Jr. taking on the role of the antagonist for a change.
Now I may have previously slated Christopher Nolan previously on the Bubble, but I genuinely think this is where his directing style gets a chance to shine. The characteristic colour palette that is used throughout the whole film certainly helps him make his mark and pulls the whole (admittedly lengthy) three hours together. I honestly think the introductory sequence is brilliant, bringing the viewer into the mindset of a physicist capable of doing almost anything in his field. Watch this instead of The Dark Knight.
Gerwig’s direction is fun and quirky, and her use of editing is innovative, I just wish she committed even more to some of her ideas. The entire look of the film, particularly the costumes, was gorgeous with so many direct references to the history of Barbie. However, making a film about one of the most dominating toy companies in the world doesn’t come with total freedom of expression – I can imagine the many hours Gerwig spent in the Mattel boardroom editing her script before they even began shooting. This obviously limits the authenticity of the film, and there are a few places in particular where the obvious brand sponsorships stick out, ruining the societal messages Gerwig was aiming to convey.
In terms of Gerwig vs. Nolan.. on any given day, I would give Gerwig the win 100%, but I’ve got to choose Nolan for this one. Maybe it’s simply the primacy effect doing its work as I watched Oppenheimer the day before I watched Barbie, but I would counter that sitting in the edge seat on the front row of a sold-out theatre for Oppenheimer evens out the experience.
Thoughts from others:
‘The Barbie movie was 100% better in my opinion. Made me cry a few too many times and really hit me in the feels. I do understand that it’s one of those films that if you get it you get it and if you don’t you don’t so I can see why some people don’t love it as much. Also Greta Gerwig for the win!!’
‘Barbie didn’t live up to the hype but still a great movie, had some really funny aspects and a tear-winning montage, would definitely recommend to watch!!”
‘Barbie’s marketing was one of the best from this year, but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed with the movie itself. The entire movie meaning itself was clear enough to be understood, but we were explained it through a large monologue that felt satiric. Oppenheimer, I knew very little about the movie, just its association with the atomic bomb and Barbie. Knowing Christopher Nolan’s portfolio, I expected nothing less than the impressive cinematics we were provided. Even though I may have been lost sometimes during the plot, it was still one of the best movies of the year. Love you Cillian xx’