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Discussion: Barbenheimer

“Do you guys ever think about dying?”
“I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.”

As you may have heard, since it’s the biggest cultural divide since... whatever the last big cultural divide was, and also since it’s a headline everywhere, to the point that “Barbenheimer” has its own Wikipedia page (for the moment, at least): on Thursday, July 21st, 2023, two radically different movies will premiere: Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever driven up (or down, I suppose) the Pacific Coast Highway through Santa Monica, which I assume is the daily commute for at least one movie-studio CEO and therefore the inspiration for a Nolan/Barbie face-off:

Which house would the sorting hat put you in?

In the top-secret Agents of Doux groupchat, most of our writers seemed interested in the Barbie movie. Indeed, all of my IRL friends are also interested in the Barbie movie, a fact which makes me feel like this:


...because I have no interest in the Barbie movie (I have never cared for the doll, and I disliked Gerwig’s spin on Little Women), but I do like Christopher Nolan quite a bit, and Cillian Murphy isn’t too shabby, either.

Mr. Murphy himself thinks that this is “great for the industry, and for audiences,” and that we should probably engage in “No fooking fighting!” (I’m extrapolating here from some of his earlier work) about which movie is better, even though it’s obvious that Oppenheimer, about one of the most important and terrifying inventions ever created, is obviously better, but of course Cillian Murphy is a nice guy, so I like that he's saying something I disagree with, which is perhaps something I should talk to someone about, if I were inclined to do such things, and probably he'd have been a better choice to write this post than I was.

Anyway, we’d love to hear from all of you about which movie you’re going to watch first, and I promise not to judge you too much if you answer incorrectly.

I’d also like to apologize for whatever is happening to my prose these days. I just finished Infinite Jest so I just write like a knock-off DFW now. I’m sure it’ll stop eventually.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. I don't intend to see either movie until they're streaming, but the juxtaposition does make me snicker.

  2. I don’t plan to see either movie even when they’re streaming, but if I did it would be Oppenheimer. I do want see Sound of Freedom…..

    There’s a Top Secret Agents of Doux Group Chat?

  3. The reason I am leaning towards seeing Barbie is because of Gerwig. I LOVED her Little Women which surprised me because I am a purist when it comes to that book (my favorite of all time). Josie, you are not the only one who didn't like it. I thought my mother was going to throw something at the screen several times during the showing we went to together (her favorite story as well).

    But, the whole idea of Barbie makes me yawn. Even as a child, the two Barbies I had tended to spend vast quantities of time in the toy box while other things made an appearance. I will probably wait to stream it.

    I will definitely see Oppenheimer as I am fascinated by the man and that period of history.

    The movie I am most excited about? Hugh Jackman's Oklahoma has finally showed up in my local cinema. Where you will find me very, very soon trying so hard not to sing along.

  4. ‘First’ implies there’s a ‘second’, which there isn’t. Oppenheimer looks to be worth watching.

    (As far as Sound of Freedom is concerned, one has to be a bit suspicious about any venture that’s endorsed so heartily by Mel Gibson, Dana White, Elon Musk, Ben Shapiro, the Family Research Council, and Donald Trump, and stars QAnon whackjob Jim Caviezel — though he was pretty good in Person of Interest.)

  5. This here Pirate is Team Oppenheimer. Nolan’s “The Prestige” gained him a ton of viewing equity with me that even “Tenet” hasn’t completely used up.

    However, the younger deck hands here are decidedly Team Barbie. And while casting multiple SNL alums in your movie is typically a “straight-to-streaming” decider for me, I have to admit that Ryan Gosling’s Ken in the previews had me cracking up.

    Probably will end up seeing them both.

  6. Yeah, I'm seeing both.

    Nolan films are made to be seen (if not necessarily heard) in theaters, and the story of Oppenheimer and the bomb is incredibly relevant to our species. And even if it is well-known IP, I've got to think Barbie will be more creative and original than the gaggle of comic book movies struggling to copy each other's subpar multiverse storylines. I ended up catching the post-credits scene of The Flash when I went to see Asteroid City, and it felt as low-effort as the rest of the movie looked from promos.

    That said, I do still need to get around to watching the Spiderverse movies. Because I've pretty much only heard good things.

  7. The memes I saw with Oppenheimer looking stressed about finding out his bomb was used as a bomb had me cracking up but I don't find the premise very interesting anymore. I'm probably gonna be thinking about rewatching the 2 seasons of Manhattan (WGN America) instead, which I haven't thought about in years shamefully and am grateful the movie at least reminded me of it. As for Barbie: no, never. Not after the Super Mario movie let me down. I love The Goose but can't buy him as a Ken.

    "Boom... went boom-boom?"

  8. Well, I haven't been to the theatre since COVID started and neither of these films is likely to lure me back, though I might stream Oppenheimer eventually, if the reviews impress me. To be fair, it's a LONG time since I've been excited enough about a film to say I would definitely see it in the theatre before it came out--Before Sunset about ten years ago maybe? While I knew I would probably see Dune before it came out, knowing you'll probably stream it eventually isn't quite the same level of interest.

    But neither film really excites me. I loved Memento and liked some of Nolan's other films so I'm moderately interested. But as potential scientist biopics from that era, I find Turing, Einstein and Heisenberg more interesting. And to me Barbie presents a problem because conceptually she was designed as a blank slate for little girls to project their fantasies onto, which I think is problematic as the central a character in a film. I think she would work better as a video game protagonist.

  9. A bit off-topic, but as a follow-on to my comment above about Sound of Freedom, here's Rebecca Watson on why the film and the people behind it are pretty reprehensible:-


  10. I'm not remotely qualified to review this movie, but I just saw it and thought you all might enjoy a transcription of the conversation I had with my mother afterwards:

    Josie's Mom: Why are you calling me back so late? Where were you?

    Josie: Sorry, I just got back from seeing Oppenheimer.

    Mom: Oh my gosh, how exciting! How was it! Matt Damon's in that. I saw him do an interview on TV. How was it?

    J: It was good. The director isn't really known for in-depth character nuance...

    M: Who? Who is the director? What has he done?

    J: His name's Christopher Nolan. The movie by him you might have seen is Inception.

    M: ...

    J: Basically, for all of his movies, when you talk about them you use the actor's name rather than the character's name.

    M: Oh, okay. (She sounded totally mystified but I stand by my explanation of Nolan's work.) Anyway, how was it?

    J: It was really good! It was an in-depth character study. You know, Oppenheimer wasn't a great guy.

    M: Yeah, on the news he sounded like he was a bit of jerk.

    J: Not really a jerk on purpose, though. He just never thought through the consequences of his actions for other people.

    M: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. So what's it about?

    J: Well, you may not know this, but he invented a bomb.

    M: Yeah. And not just a little bomb. A big bomb.

    J: Exactly.

    M: And how did that go?

    J: Well, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

    M: But what did he do before he invented the bomb?

    J: He taught at Berkeley.

    M: Oh, that's cool! And then he...what? Invented the bomb and gave it to the US? Or they courted him?

    J: They did court him. Matt Damon courted him.

    M: Matt Damon courted him?!

    J: Yeah, and you don't say no to Matt Damon. He's too cute.

    M: No, he's definitely too cute. And he's still cute.

    J: Yes.

    M: And did you know he's been married for years to the same woman? They have four daughters!

    J: Unlike that Ben Affleck.

    M: Yes, he's horrible.

    J: What a schmuck.

    M: But he and Matt Damon are still friends!

    J: I know, but I think that speaks more to the kindness inside Matt Damon's heart.

    M: Such a good man. and so cute. So, he [Oppenheimer] invents the bomb. Then what?

    J: Well, it was kinda a big deal at the time.

    M: A big bomb.

    J: Exactly.

    M: And then what? Does Matt Damon have repercussions? Does Oppenheimer?

    J: Matt Damon seems like he's doing okay, but we don't follow his story too closely. Oppenheimer does feel sad.

    M: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

    J: Exactly.

    M: And then what happens?

    J: Well, I don't know if this is a spoiler...

    M: I don't care.

    J: So, you know the Red Scare? McCarthyism?

    M: Yes! Yes! (My mother gets excited when she knows things.)

    J: Well, Oppenheimer got caught up in that. It's a big part of the film.

    M: Oh, that's too bad. Was he married?

    J: Yes, he had a wife. And a mistress. And another mistress. Like I said, the movie's idea of him is that he doesn't think through the consequences of his actions for other people.

    M: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. How's your cat?

  11. I think 'The Prestige' is one of the best movies ever made. I wish I could get into Nolan's other work, but it tends to look boring. 'Oppenheimer' trailers are just Murphy making sad faces, which doesn't seem like a real movie to me. Watching it might feel like homework.

    However, both films tried to avoid CGI. Nolan even claims 'Oppenheimer' has zero CGI. Maybe the movies will start to look good again.

  12. Having completed my double feature, I can now confidently recommend both! Great movies, both of them, and both very much worthwhile in a theatre. Opp because you need the massive presentation, and Barbie because you need the audience.

  13. I highly doubt we'll see either movie. My wife doesn't like "girly" movies (she prefers ones where people are hacked to pieces like cabbage, or eaten by zombies while still alive and screaming), and we basically never watch "serious" dramas.


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