Over the weekend, I took part in the Barbenheimer Experience. We saw “Barbie” and — after a break to feed my sister’s dogs and also myself — “Oppenheimer”. I’ll be honest: I mostly did it because it felt like a silly Internet thing to do. But I’m glad I did it.
Not since “Citizen Kane” has a movie about a beloved childhood possession made such good Art™. I wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed it. It was fun in a silly, self-aware way. Credit to the folks at Mattel who approved this, because it addresses some of Barbie’s problems.
It’s not just a fun movie, though. The movie addresses serious themes, sometimes satirically and sometimes earnestly. The message gets a little ham-handed in a few spots, but it quickly reels back in. Overall, it provokes thought in a fun way.
One thought it provoked in me: how many times did they have to shoot the beach off scene before they got a usable take?
“Oppenheimer” is not a fun movie, but it was interesting. I didn’t know much about Robert Oppenheimer before the movie, and I’m not sure how much I can claim to know now. While not fawning, the movie’s portrayal of Oppenheimer is complimentary. It doesn’t ignore his personal failings, but it also doesn’t explore them. They are just facts in the story.
I spent the rest of the evening thinking about atomic weapons. Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan may be the ultimate Trolley Problem. An American invasion of mainland Japan would have cost many military and civilian lives. But that didn’t happen. The death of a few hundred thousand civilians did happen. No matter what the outcome of the road not traveled, we can’t ignore what did happen.
Was Oppenheimer’s opposition to Teller’s hydrogen bomb principled or was it petty? I either case, was it hypocritical? Was it ethical? What lessons should we take for the things we invent today?
Both movies are about the end of the world as the characters know it. Both grapple with what that means for the future. They are very different movies, but they compliment each other quite nicely. They’re good on their own, but I’m glad I saw them together.