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I Survived Watching Barbie & Oppenheimer In 5 Hours & Ended Up With An Existential Crisis

Watching Barbie & Oppenheimer back-to-back

Barbenheimer is a feat many have proclaimed wanting to do, but few have seen it through. So when my supervisor presented me with the opportunity to watch both movies during work hours, I pounced on it. I thought, it can’t be worse than being in the office and chionging another article, right?

While it was definitely one of my most laid-back work days, I left the theatre feeling absolutely drained. Here’s what it was like on the 5-hour emotional rollercoaster if you’re thinking of doing it yourself, or just want to live vicariously through my experience. Warning: there’ll be major spoilers for both Barbie and Oppenheimer ahead, so read at your own discretion.

Oppenheimer hit closer to home than I thought

barbenheimer - oppenheimer sadHe was more than just the father of the atomic bomb.Image adapted from: Universal Pictures via Youtube

I have a confession to make: I walked into the theatre with zero knowledge of the actual historical events that the film is based on. And I’m glad I did – I didn’t have to worry about factual accuracy and had the pleasure of experiencing Oppenheimer’s story for the first time. That being said, I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for the emotional bombing I was in for.

For those who are like me and don’t know the historical context of the film, let me catch you up to speed. J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist who became the leading director of the Manhattan Project, a US government research project during World War II. They also created the first atomic bomb.

Director Christopher Nolan – who’s also the genius behind Interstellar and Inception – used Oppenheimer’s story to craft a cautionary tale that can be summarised in a simple phrase,  “mess around and find out”. Throughout the 3-hour biopic, I quickly spiralled into an existential crisis once I noticed a few themes that hit a little too close to home. 

Change is unavoidable

The movie really got me thinking about today’s world, especially the pace at which new technology is being invented. It lowkey reminded me of ChatGPT – time and time again I find myself in a debate over whether or not artificial intelligence will take over my job.

atomic bomb testImage adapted from: @oppenheimermovie via Instagram

Much like how the atomic bomb was based on chain reactions, we are never able to tell the “chain reaction” that will come from inventing or creating new technology. And even so, what are the moral codes involved when using this new creation? 

It’s like the struggle between Oppenheimer’s thirst to find out if his atomic bomb idea would work and his sense of morality, especially when they were discussing the potential damage it could cause.

There are consequences to your actions

barbie and explosionMy brain after watching both movies back-to-back.Image credit: aaronmwilson via tenor

My favourite part of the movie has to be the scene where they were testing the atomic bomb. At this point, the film goes completely silent before a sudden and loud “boom” from the explosion – my heart leapt out of my chest from the jumpscare. The metaphor here is that it takes a while before you realise the impact of your actions, which I feel is very relatable.

We Singaporeans tend to be a bit kanciong. Most of the time, we don’t really take the time to think about the implications of our actions until it’s too late – or when the “boom” hits. This also ties in well with the “chain reaction” analogy that is brought out throughout the movie. When we rush things and don’t think before we act, it has the potential to cause a ripple effect of negative impact.

i am become death quote“Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”Image adapted from: Atomic Archive

Human life is short and fragile

That’s exactly what Oppenheimer failed to see until it was too late – the ripple effect of his actions ending the lives of so many people. It helped put the fragility of mortal lives into perspective as well – a good reminder to myself to cherish the time I have with my loved ones. After all, a long life isn’t promised so we must make use of the time we have now.

Barbie was also… about death?

Time check: 3.15pm. It still feels like the bomb is going off. My pulse continues to race as I fight to catch my breath – it’s almost as if I still hear the screams of the helpless victims. Perhaps I can wash away the horrors I witnessed from Oppenheimer with some light-hearted Barbie fun, I say to myself as I took a short bathroom break and head to the next hall for round 2.

barbenheimer - barbie death quoteImage credit: Warner Bros. Pictures via Giphy

Barbie did start out on the light-hearted side for the first 15 minutes – the whole cinema loved seeing the huge dance and song number to end a perfect “day in the life” of Barbie. That didn’t last long, though. My jaw dropped when Barbie hit us with the completely out-of-pocket question, “Do you guys ever think about dying?” 

Here we go again, I think to myself. Seems like the theme of mortality from Oppenheimer continues to plague us in Barbie. I can’t tell if it’s because the 7th month is fast approaching. 

Things can’t be perfect all the time

I steeled myself for a philosophically-heavy Barbie movie. That’s when I noticed that the “perfect” nature of Barbie Land was mostly due to the fact that things don’t change. 

When Barbie goes through some human-like changes such as developing cellulite on her legs, the other Barbies become afraid – they can’t deal with the unknown. But if you’re reading this you probably already know that change is unavoidable in life. 

barbie and ken travellingThey’re making their way downtown, walking fast, faces pass.Image adapted from: Warner Bros. Pictures via Youtube

One of the more visually pleasing scenes was when Barbie and Ken embarked on a long yet whimsical journey to the real world, where they took multiple vehicles and traversed several landscapes to arrive at their destination. It’s symbolic of how detached the dolls in Barbie Land were from reality.

Watching Barbie’s and Ken’s confusion with how the real world works was surprisingly relatable.  Director Greta Gerwig showed how these “rose-tinted” glasses were removed through the journey from a pink wonderland to dull reality. It reminded me of when I first stepped into the working world right after graduating from Curtin Singapore – boy, it wasn’t at all what I expected adulting to be. 

The male gaze is very real

The first thing Barbie experienced when stepping foot in the real world was the lustful glares of the men on Venice Beach. It reminded me of the countless stories from girl friends who have been stalked, catcalled, and blamed for “purposely” attracting men’s attention based on their outfits.

Image adapted from: Warner Bros. Pictures via Youtube

The behaviour of such men place a greater emphasis on the difference between a society run by women, Barbie Land, and the “real world”, which is heavily patriarchal.

We see the contrast through Ken too, who was quickly influenced by the patriarchal ways of the real world after living in a female-dominated society for such a long time. Though it’s purely irony, it was hilarious to see his reaction to the role reversal as well; when he realised that the women in reality were being treated like the Kens in Barbie Land.

Gender norms in society

Ken’s understanding of what it meant to be a man became extremely warped, based on the mannerisms he picked up from the real world. He became obsessed with beer, war, and treating the other Barbies as servants.

barbenheimer - barbie and kenImage adapted from: Warner Bros. Pictures via Youtube

The role reversal of male and female dynamics was also used to represent how it’s stereotypically “female” to be the “side character”. Having Ken take the spot of the “damsel in distress” in my opinion was satirical and flips traditional gender norms we have in our real world today on its head.

But one of the most empowering moments was when Barbie apologised to Ken for how she had treated him, in spite of the chaos that Ken had brought by trying to turn Barbie Land into a patriarchal society. I’m sure a lot of us here have experienced a situation where we had to be the bigger person and apologise for things that aren’t even our fault. 

The crossover I never saw coming

barbie and oppenheimer colourswapImage for illustrative purposes only.Image adapted from: @oppenheimermovie via Instagram, Warner Bros. Pictures via Youtube

What I didn’t expect from my Barbenheimer experience was that Barbie was the film that gave me emotional whiplash – with heavy messaging punctuated by lighter scenes in between. For example, Barbie’s confrontation with a group of men went from a seemingly dangerous situation to a funny one when she brought up the fact that she doesn’t have a certain body part.

While I went into Oppenheimer ready to think about mortality, Barbie was unexpected – albeit, through different lenses. Oppenheimer was more focused on the fleeting nature of life whereas Barbie’s was that suffering was a part of living – both equally bleak outlooks. 

barbenheimer - barbenheimer transitionImage adapted from: @wolyfilms via TikTok

Both movies also brought up the dark side of humanity by using the Seven Deadly Sins. Even Oppenheimer had trouble keeping it in his pants, just like the men from the “real world” in Barbie. By the end of the 5 hours, I left the theatre questioning if I was a decent human being and had me reflecting on every interaction I’ve ever had.

However, ending with Barbie was definitely the right choice – it was uplifting to see how Barbie fought against all the misogyny and unfairness. It was also inspiring how she picked herself up at her lowest point to fight not for herself but for her fellow Barbies. Perhaps there is some good in humans – just takes a lot of strength and resilience to be a good person. 

Is the Barbenheimer experience worth enduring

My colleagues, who all heard that I was sent for this “experiment”, were all eager to find out about my Barbie and Oppenheimer experience. One even asked if I was alive, to which I responded that I’m not dead, I’m just having an existential crisis.

theatreThis was definitely not me during my 5-hour Barbenheimer marathon. 

If I had only one choice of which movie I’d watch, it would be Barbie. Not to take anything away from Oppenheimer, Barbie just has a lot of nuggets of wisdom that I can apply to my daily life. It had me reevaluating myself as a human and change the way I view people in my life. 

Some people go on yoga or silent meditation retreats to question the meaning of life, all I had to do was watch Barbenheimer. But as mentally draining as the 5-hour experience was, it’s not hard to see why so many people on TikTok and Instagram decided to watch both movies back-to-back. And at the end of the day, I did get to watch 2 blockbuster hits during work hours – how bad can life be?

For more thought-provoking stories, check out:

Working as a plumber in SingaporeStudying at ITE in SingaporeChatGPT & Rytr: The future of AI in journalism

Cover image adapted from: Universal Pictures & Warner Bros. Pictures via Youtube


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