Aug 15, 2023

The Summer Of Barbenheimer

Barbenheimer poster art
Sean Longmore - Layered Butter (2023)
It's been almost a month since Oppenheimer and Barbie premiered in theaters, and several months since the Barbenheimer memes began to dominate pop culture.  I would have gone to see them both on opening day, but between work and the drive-in, it's been a pretty busy time over the past few months.  I have some extra PTO to burn through, so I took yesterday off and spent some time at the Regal to catch up on two of the summer blockbusters that I had missed out on up to this point.
This is an incredible work of art that should really be experienced on the big screen, and from a personal perspective, it's exactly the kind of movie that I needed to see in theaters.  I get too easily distracted watching movies at home, and I doubt that I'd ever be able to give a 180 minute long biographical drama the attention that it deserves outside of a theatrical setting.

While I agree with the critics that this is one of the greatest films of the 21st century, it falls into the one-and-done category.  I don't even know where I'd begin to write a review, and I can't imagine that I'll ever want to watch it a second time unless it gets released with a director's commentary or something like that, but I'm very happy to have seen it.

This was a much better and more complex movie than I expected it to be from its marketing campaign.  The trailers made it look like a slapstick comedy with a hint of social commentary, and while there definitely are a lot of very funny moments, there's nothing subtle or simple about this story.  Watching it reminded me of the first time I saw George Carlin's performances because I found myself laughing in the moment and then reflecting on it a few seconds later.  It uses comedy the way that Advil uses a sugar coating on their medicine.

It wouldn't surprise me a bit if this movie became the subject of study on college campuses around the world for the rest of my life.  It holds a carnival mirror up to society, human nature, and what it means to be a man or a woman in a society that does everything it can to sort you into little categories with pre-defined character traits that you're expected to conform to.  Every generation seems to think that they've risen above this, from the Boomers to today, but all they really seem to accomplish is to create new categories and new rules of conformity, and then proceed to sort everyone into each of them.  The aesthetics change, but the mechanism remains the same.  I realize that I'm straying pretty far from the issues of feminism and the patriarchy that this movie is centered on.  My point is that there's a lot going on in this movie, and it absolutely deserves your time. 

I didn't expect to walk away from this double feature saying that the movie based on a line of toys is a more important film than the one about the man who gave the world the atomic bomb, but there's a very good argument to be made that this is the case.  As for myself, I've already had more than enough arguing in my life, so I'll leave this issue to other people to debate.  What I will say is that they're both excellent movies and I'm glad that I didn't let the Barbenheimer phenomenon pass me by.