This section is just about my thoughts on the movies’ writing. It’s more detailed than part 1. Barbenheimer is two movies so, hey, this review has two parts.

I’m a bad film student. I have yet to watch The Godfather, the Dark Knight Trilogy, or many other “must-see’s”. A lot of them don’t tickle my interest at first glance; my professors would be so disappointed in me. Feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt. But not to brag, I am technically an award-winning screenwriter.

I’m usually not a victim of FOMO, but the Barbenheimer craze was too enticing. I watched Barbie first and then Oppenheimer about a week later. Personally, I am team Oppie, but I enjoyed both. I have yet to read the scripts, shame on me. Okay, I was bragging about my screenwriting “award”.

This review is long, it’s 2-in-1.

Structure

Oppenheimer

I was very happy with the first act. It laid out its themes, characters, and questions quickly and in plain view. I knew what I needed to and my gears started turning. It didn’t hold my hand and thankfully, it didn’t need to. Granted, I did miss the first five minutes or so. And like, another ten minutes in the last hour. You know why.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t confused by the non-linear storytelling. It was actually a nice puzzle trying to piece the order of scenes. Structure is probably my least developed facet when it comes to writing, so I commend successful, nonlinear storytelling.

Barbie

Classic, contemporary linear Hollywood structure. It mirrors the hero’s journey. A familiar way for the audience to process a comfortable plot. I don’t see the point in trying to estrange the Barbie IP with more heady techniques.

Character

Oppenheimer

I haven’t read American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer but the movie seems to be an applaud-worthy adaptation. The “characters” are mostly real people with actual lives, but they made great drama for cinema. I especially liked Kitty’s role. She was obviously “flawed”, but strong in her convictions. I think she had a drink just as often as she didn’t. Could we have seen more of her and other minor characters? I’d like that, but the movie’s three hours already.

I’ve seen some critiques on the lack of personal relationships in Oppenheimer. I agree with them, more could have happened between the affair, their child, and the family. However, I’m not mad at it. I believe Nolan succeeded in showing the story he wanted. There was enough personality for me to be satiated, but the physical plot itself certainly helped.

Barbie

I think much of this movie’s material is meant to reflect, contradict, mix, and intermingle reality to emphasize its message. Its characters are no exception. Ken is a man with a child’s brain. Barbie transforms from doll to human. Weird Barbie is painted as an outcast, then recognized as a savior. Barbie is a fairy tale and foregoes realistic depictions.

The main cast develops themselves over the course of the movie. They start as blank slates to further other themes of maturity, womanhood, and societal expectations. Barbie learns there’s more to one’s singular life. Ken is easily brainwashed by the intoxication of “power” in the real world. Barbieland gets a taste of power imbalance from the sexes and points out how absurd gender can be through its dolls.

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Dialogue

Oppenheimer

It may be just the nature of the material, but I got a very Aaron Sorkin vibe. Characters are extremely smart or clever and display expertise with subtle bravado. Of course, the subject lends to that kind of talking: top STEM academics and court cases.

I didn’t notice until it was pointed out, but Tatlock sounds like more of a character than an actual person. Her dialogue suited the story, but it’s really weird if someone really spoke like that.

Barbie

On the nose quite a bit to my standards, but I don’t exactly mind. It was used during intense crises. My expectations weren’t too high in terms of mastery over subtext. Everyone sounded appropriate and the jokes were funny. Again, they’re campy characters in a fantasy setting.

Tone

Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer is far from a comedy, but it had its moments. We oftentimes sit in sobering realizations or get assaulted by loud drama. We all know how it ends. However, rather than a slow burn, Nolan takes us through the story like an ignited fuse; a 3-hour long fuse arranged in a compelling pattern.

Barbie

Sometimes overly saccharine, but I can recognize Barbie knows itself tone-wise. It never made me burst out laughing, but it teased out a consistent stream of chuckles from me. I wish it leaned more into the absurd: Ken’s introduction to the patriarchy montage, or weird Barbie’s jumpscare, or the 2001 A Space Odyssey homage. I mean, can you imagine being perpetually pregnant forever? That’s a terrible existence, but funny. Again, it’s intentionally appealing to a broad audience.

Themes & Messages in Barbenheimer

Oppenheimer

Some of my favorite topics are brought up: power, indecision, theory vs. practice, ambition, irrevocable consequences, and betrayal. I believe its main message is one of hubris. Despite all one’s genius, no one can truly predict the consequences of their actions.

There may not even be a singular, emphasized message to take from. This is a dramatized depiction on someone’s life. Just like memoirs, we may glean lessons from the past. Ultimately, this is just another extraordinary life in all of recorded human history.

Barbie

Some themes: coming-of-age realization that life isn’t so simple, womanhood, empathy, gender roles, breaking societal expectations for gender, marginalization, misogyny and misandry?

I feel the theming is a Wonderland rabbit hole. It does make me think, but I get lost. Kind of like a house of mirrors or an ouroboros. Let me explain. If you don’t want to read a veritable wall of text, just listen to Closer to Fine by Indigo Girls.

Barbies hold power like men do in the real world, even more so. But the Kens rightfully retaliate, like women should and do in reality. That’s one layer. The Barbies oppress the Kens. Should we really be cheering the reinstatement of power and status quo? Another layer. But it’s okay because women win and men lose. Is that a reflection and a twist on real life? Add a layer. But the Barbies win through “manipulative” and “underhanded” tactics. Is that okay when fighting for one’s rights? I believe so, but then again, they were unequivocally always in power. So is it justified? Add another one. How about all the issues Sasha brings up? She’s kind of right, but Barbie has done a lot for our predecessors. Should we really feel bad for Barbie when she’s pushing merch on a new generation? Add another one. What about Midge, and her lack of screentime? And the fact the executives hide in her house? Is it commentary on how we shove mothers aside? Do the Kens represent women? Or men? Or both? Is stereotypical Barbie the “true winner”? What’s Allan’s deal again?

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Maybe everyone is wrong simultaneously, but in an uplifting, consumable kind of way. The system is wrong. That isn’t a hot take. Or maybe it is? Maybe it’s just not that deep, bro. I think Barbie brings up its issues through omission and contradiction in a rather under-baked execution. Maybe I’m just not getting it. A lot of my thinking was triggered by Twitter user @dyingscribe and their analysis.

I understand the sort of non-partisan take on issues. First and foremost, Barbie is meant to sell merchandise. It did mention anti-capitalist sentiment, but of course they won’t develop that. I mean let’s face it, this movie is funded by Mattel. It kind of paints executive capitalists in a positive light? Or at least, a harmlessly incompetent one. Either way, you can’t be liked by everyone by choosing a stance. And yet, it still caused drama.

However, I believe its main message is empathy. It’s not girls vs. boys. It’s not anti-man or anti-feminist; it’s about the fact there shouldn’t even be sides to begin with. You are enough as you are. Barbie doesn’t really go hard in the paint with that, stylistically. It’s empowering in its emotional, intuitive messaging. Could it have pushed feminist issues further? Yes. Would it be taken as “seriously”? Honestly, I don’t think so. That’s a whole other trap to fall into: public opinion, politics, and how we treat women vs. men.

There’s a good joke on how Kens will attain as much power as women someday. Unfortunately, it hit a little too true for me. Maybe I’ve been too political, but I don’t agree with the “kingdom of conscious” methodology, the idea of “respectful rebellion”.

You “fight back” within the rules so much, no effective change comes about in one’s lifetime. Theoretically, generations go by with the status quo remaining. Change becomes an unattainable idea like the kingdom of heaven; it’s only possible in the afterlife.

I’m not at all trying to downplay womankind’s efforts for equality or the tumultuous history of peaceful protesting. But I’m just not a fan of “quiet resistance”. And well, I don’t have a solution without sacrifice, a topic that some of my favorite games tackle. (links to come)

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Anyway, problems still persist in Barbieland, and it should stay that way. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach are trying to unite the sexes, not inflame them. Being an empathetic mediator isn’t the sexiest message to preach, but the Barbie and Kens’ beach bods make up for it. Although it’s a great message, it’s still a propaganda from our corporate overlords. Barbie calls for us to reach out, exercise empathy, and feel. Then, maybe we can learn something and push forward together. But what am I saying? I’m just Ken.

Favorite Scenes

Oppenheimer

  • Tatlock and Oppie’s first sex scene
  • Oppie and Groves’ first meeting
  • Kitty Oppenheimer’s interrogation
  • Strauss’ final scene ending with a great button and transition

Barbie

  • The 2001: A Space Odyssey spoof, Barbieland’s introduction
  • Executives failing to manipulate Barbie into a box
  • Girls making Barbie cry
  • Ken learning about the patriarchy, the showcase of clothes
  • Helen Mirren pointing out Robbie’s beauty
  • Weird Barbie scaring Stereotypical Barbie
  • Sugar Daddy Ken and the rejected dolls
  • The circle of Kens serenading to the Barbies on the beach
  • The Kens’ battle and musical number
  • Ruth Handler is a tax-evading ghost who’s a Mattel regular

How Good is Berbenheimer?

Barbenheimer Barbie Oppenheimer

Barbie 7.5

Fun and funny, two of my expectations were fulfilled. I went in with high standards, hoping Barbie would be something I would obsess over. Unfortunately not, but I’m still satisfied. I also can’t get over how seemingly everyone is so attractive. Beauty standards successfully reinforced. Anyway, I didn’t push it over 8 because I’m a big idealistic nerd who’s into concrete messages and meaning. I’d love to hear your opinions on it though.

Oppenheimer 9.5

I was actually a Nolan hater before this; the only film I’ve seen was Interstellar. To put it lightly, it was not my favorite by a long shot. However, Oppenheimer’s caliber of film making is what I expect from someone so oft highly praised. It delivered on all fronts in my opinion, and I’ll give another chance to watch his other movies.

The only reason it’s not a 10 for me is because I didn’t feel excited for anything to come. I was engaged the entire time, but Oppenheimer just doesn’t have the “it” factor, for me, to put it over the edge. But I hope the Nolan fans are satisfied with my extremely subjective opinion on a 9.5 out of 10.

The point score below is the average between the two films. It would be lower had I watched both the same day. I’ll have to rewatch both movies for a more accurate review, but I think I’ll save that for the far future. If you’ve read all this, you’re a true camper. Maybe you should respect someone else’s opinions, someone better.

All in all, I felt the artists executed their ideas to their satisfaction and I am satisfied.

Luke Sakanashi
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