The Time I Participated in Barbenheimer

For as long as I can remember, my mother has always loved movies. I honestly believe that if it were possible to watch every movie in existence, she’d try to. Due to this, my mother tries to watch a movie at least one night a week. Usually, she’ll ask my siblings and I to join her, but she’s completely fine with leaving us in the dust and watching it by herself if we’re not up for it that night. However, these nights are rare, so it’s rather normal to see most of the family sitting around the television watching whatever movie we’ve chosen that night. It’s from these experiences that my older sister and I have inherited this love of movies, and therefore found ourselves participating in one of the biggest pop culture phenomena in recent history: Barbenheimer.

Cillian Murphy and Margot Robbie for Variety’s Actors on Actors.

For those unaware, Barbenheimer was this cultural phenomenon that stemmed from the movies Barbie and Oppenheimer being released on the same day. These movies couldn’t be more different from each other. One was this fun, feminine story revolving around a childhood toy entering the real world, while the other was a dark, hyper-masculine tale regarding the creation of the atomic bomb. So, once the internet realized these two movies with completely different vibes were coming out on the same day, of course everyone immediately thought “this has to be a double feature.” My sister and I were no different.

My older sister, Gianna, and I had not spent much time together in the past year. Both of us had been away at college, and she had spent the majority of the previous summer and winter breaks at school too. This was rather hard for me, as we had been very close growing up, only being a year apart in age. So, when she invited me to see both Oppenheimer and Barbie with her on the same day when they premiered, I jumped at the chance. We booked the tickets months in advance to make sure we got good seats. We had both heard all the jokes on social media about Barbenheimer, and joked about it ourselves, so we knew we had to go all out for this. Later on we invited our mother as well, but as she was working that day, she chose to only accompany us to Barbie.

Cillian Murphy as Robert J. Oppenheimer.

When July 21st finally came around, Gianna and I donned our first outfits of the day, consisting of black shirts and black pants, and headed out to the theater. Everyone in that theater was either wearing pink or black, so we knew we weren’t the only ones participating in this cultural phenomenon. We began with Oppenheimer, which we later realized was the best decision as the movie was very long and, at least for us, would’ve been a big downgrade after Barbie. The movie follows the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, with a big focus on what he is most remembered for, the creation of the atomic bomb. The movie was beautifully done, with amazing special effects, stunning cinematography, and performances that truly knocked it out of the park. It also had many different well-known actors in small roles, which was kind of funny considering that led to Josh Peck of all people to be the one to set off the atomic bomb.

Once the movie was over, Gianna and I drove back home as our next film was not for a few more hours. During the drive, we had some short discussions about the movie. We liked it, but we weren’t very crazy about it. It was way too long for us, and we almost lost interest at many points. Yet Rami Malek did steal the show for us at the end, and we both were freaking out at his only speaking scene in the film. Overall, we enjoyed it, but it didn’t really change us in any way. It had been quite a while since we had bonded over something such as this, so I struggled to continue the conversation as it slowly fizzled out. I wanted to keep talking to her, but we had little left to say over the film. Eventually, I gave up trying to continue a dead conversation and we continued the drive back home in silence.

However, the day was not over for us. Hours later, we returned to the theater donned in pink, with our mother and my sister’s friends in tow. Sitting down in the theater between my mother and my sister, I had no idea how much this movie was about to affect us. Barbie follows the titular character as she journeys to the Real World after suffering an existential crisis. As we watched the film, we found that it was not only about the struggles, but also the undeniable beauty about being a woman. 

Margot Robbie as Barbie.

I don’t know if I could ever truly describe the feeling I had while watching this movie with my sister and my mother at my side. I remember all three of us crying as we found ourselves relating to the message how women are always put to such high and unrealistic standards yet are still so full of love and life anyway. The specific scene that stood out to me was near the end of the film when Barbie spoke to her creator, Ruth Handler. Ruth states to Barbie, “We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they’ve come.” I remember looking at my mother during this moment, saw the tears falling down her face, and wondered if she had been doing that for me, and if she remembered my grandmother doing the same for her. This scene was followed by a compilation of home videos of women throughout various stages of life, from little girls to grown women, just living and being happy. I just remember feeling this overpowering love of being a woman while seeing this, which was just increased by sharing this beautiful moment with two of the most important women in my life.

It’s safe to say that there were no dry faces when we left the theater. It was bittersweet in a way, that such a beautiful memory had to end. Even so, I felt so much closer to my sister and my mother than I had before we had seen the film. Gianna ended up going home separately with her friends, while my mother and I drove back together. I had started the day with my sister, whose invitation led to this day happening, and ended it with my mother, whose love of movies influenced us to want to see this in the first place. While Barbie hit a bit harder for me, it was seeing both that and Oppenheimer in a single day that really made this experience special. It wasn’t just about seeing the movies, as we could always rewatch them, but about spending the day with her and participating in this pop culture phenomenon with her too. I’ll never forget that memory my sister and I made of us deciding to participate in Barbenheimer, nor will I forget the way it felt for the two of us to see a movie so focused on how it is to be a woman with the woman that has affected us the most in our lives.