The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon


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Who would’ve thought that the story of the man who led the project to create the atomic bomb and the story of the light-hearted doll from our childhoods would be so closely intertwined? This overlap all started with a date: July 21. The juxtaposition of Oppenheimer’s nuclear weapons-based storyline and Barbie’s sunshines and rainbows is an unlikely pair, yet these two movies have more in common than one might think… 

The term “Barbenheimer” started as a widespread social media meme representing the release dates of these two movies, however when we piece together compelling similarities the common release date does not seem like such a coincidence.

Directed by Greta Gerwig, Barbie follows the story of Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) in Barbie Land, the home of all the Barbies and Kens, and don’t forget Allan (Michael Cera)! In Barbie Land, women run everything, from being the president to being a judge on the Supreme Court or to being construction workers and physicians. Kens’ (Ryan Gosling) only purpose is to hope that Barbie will smile at him, and give him her validation. Every Barbie is connected to a little girl in the Real World whose actions and emotions can influence their Barbie all the way in Barbie Land. After Stereotypical Barbie has a sudden existential crisis — where she can’t seem to repress thoughts of dying — she ventures into the Real World to find her human counterpart. As these thoughts start to grow she experiences more human qualities, like flat feet, as opposed to the classic Barbie heel, and cellulite, an imperfection on her plastic body. When she gets to the Real World, accompanied by Ken, Barbie is confused but mostly horrified by what she sees: a world in which women are looked down upon. This film explores Barbie’s journey to self-acceptance, teaching the viewers that it’s okay to be imperfect– you’re only human after all! 

Alternatively, Oppenheimer is a biographical drama film about Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) directed and written by Christopher Nolan. Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb.” This movie tells the story of his studies, the Manhattan Project, and his eventual fall due to the 1954 security hearing. In December 1938, nuclear fission was discovered and he realized that it could be weaponized. This led to him being recruited for the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer was a Jewish man driven by competing with the Nazis to create the atomic bomb; he believed his bomb would end the ongoing war. Once proven successful by the Trinity Test, President Harry S. Truman ordered Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be bombed, causing Japan to surrender and leading to the end of the war. Oppenheimer was publicly praised for bringing WWII to an end with his creation, but he had to live with the shame of the mass destruction and fatalities that occurred as a result. His political influence wavered after this due to his alleged communist ties, and he later passed away from throat cancer in 1967.

The term “Barbenheimer” started as a widespread social media meme representing the release dates of these two movies, however when we piece together compelling similarities the common release date does not seem like such a coincidence. Oppenheimer and Barbie together display two positions in one situation: Oppenheimer tells the story of the creator — the creator of destruction, an atomic bomb that wiped out more than 200,000 people — while Barbie tells the story of the creation — the doll who is obviously living with no control on what happens in her life. In Oppenheimer the civilians are living the life of Barbie, constantly living powerlessly with a vague sense of dread that their whole world could change at any moment. And in Barbie, the male CEOs were playing the part of Oppenheimer, treating the Barbies as pawns to grow economically. 

The end of each movie had jaw dropping outcomes. Barbie changes Barbie Land forever and starts working towards equality regardless of the CEOs request to keep it how it was. As for Oppenheimer, in the closing scene, his conversation with Einstein reminds us that although he is the creator of the weaponry, when nuclear war is a possibility he is a pawn as well. He made the bomb but that doesn’t mean he can decide when it’s used. These two movies end with the idea of the creator becoming the pawn; the CEOs can’t control Barbie’s storyline anymore, and Oppenheimer is not the hands the end of the world could be in. 

While both movies take much different approaches in getting their message across, both movies reveal the fragility of reality, and how easily our world can be turned upside down by the simplest of ideas. Revolving around two historic inventions – Barbie dolls and the atomic bomb – these movies were able to allure viewers because of their cultural impacts on society, specifically American society. They are both extremely American products that symbolize a capitalist end-goal. For Barbie it was the amount of accessories and add-ons you can buy, with the sole purpose of making more money by “empowering” a doll and the fact that she is seen as this kind of idealized embodiment of femininity, which makes Barbie into this perfect idea of what a woman should be: able to do everything and anything society demands of her. Meanwhile, the atomic bomb was an invention that tremendously altered America’s control economically, politically, and militarily, from WWII until today. It started the nuclear competition countries have continually engaged and destructed with.

But while both movies do focus on the advancement of capitalism, they also critique the products and systems they revolve around, sexism and war. Along with a line directly calling Barbie a “fascist,” the film spends a lot of time talking about gender inequalities in society, arguing that it not only affects women, but men too. Oppenheimer points out that the creation of the atomic bomb, and the decisions that led them to dropping it on Hiroshima were cruel. Sadly, while both movies have critiques of the dangers of their products and systems, they ultimately are for-profit: one long Mattel ad and a story that makes us sympathize with the man who created a death machine that altered our world forever. 

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