I survived Barbenheimer: The most chaotic cinema day of a generation
Pausing Barbie when she says ‘do you guys ever think about dying?’ to watch Oppenheimer
It’s fucking pissing it down. I’m not being hyperbolic, either. Considering this is the middle of July and the day of the biggest summer release for cinema in potentially decades, you’d think getting people to sit inside dark rooms for five hours of the day would be a battle in inevitable scorching sunshine. No. Instead, I’m putting my North Face through its paces. I’m on my way to FACT in Liverpool for Barbenheimer – the pop culture event of a generation. I’m not wasting your time explaining what Barbenheimer means or is – if you’re reading this you came with purpose and if you don’t then you’d never click such nonsense. But yep, it’s raining – and Oppenheimer looms. Like any sane person, I’m doing Oppenheimer, food and many pints, vapes and cocktails and then Barbie. If you don’t have it in you for a cinema double bill, it’s your lucky day: You’re coming along with me. I chronicled my chaotic Barbenheimer day so you don’t have to.
‘Now I am become death, the Destroyer of Worlds’
The rain feels correct for Oppenheimer. It’s atmospheric. I’m entering this first film with the following context. Firstly, I am temperamental with my opinions on Christopher Nolan films. Tenet was atrocious to me, but Interstellar is one of the best films ever made. Secondly, I’m braced for a wordy and intense three hour runtime – a daunting prospect to even the hardiest of cinema lovers (I’m a huge film fan, I go to the cinema at least once a week – I’d put myself into that bracket). And third – I’ve seen people share that after they watched they were so traumatised by the gruelling subject matter they could barely function afterwards. That’s a lot to comprehend when there’s a long day ahead.
We’re at the cinema. I force my mates to take a picture of me in my specifically bought for occasion Barbenheimer tee, of which I am suitably smug about. Pals get a chaotic combo of pint and coffee – I go for a hefty Pepsi Max and popcorn. The fella working the cinema counter compliments my t-shirt which makes every issue in my life fade away instantly. My mates ridicule my big clobber Pepsi Max choice when it’s a three hour film, but I have some faith in my bladder. I survived Babylon wee free – surely Oppenheimer will be a piece of piss. If you pardon the pun.
Verdict: A very great and accomplished piece of filmmaking. Christopher Nolan’s direction and Cillian Murphy’s performance elevate a film that could easily be a tedious three hours of intense chats in various boring looking rooms into something with a lot of menace and moral dilemma. The film is at its best when Nolan takes it into a stylistic and surreal place: The celebratory stamping of feet becoming violent, the intercuts of Oppenheimer and Jackie’s affair with the hearing and a naked Florence Pugh in an office. Things I was less hot on: Everyone in this film was wise-cracking sassy one liners in their dialogue and it took me out of the gravity of the subject matter and made it feel very Hollywood. Some big name casting decisions did the same – why am I watching Josh Peck of Drake and Josh fame be the one to push the detonator???
Piss wise: It was a struggle. I quietly and demurely held it for the whole three hours but I think if Oppenheimer got in the shower or something it would have been over for me.
Discussing the ins and outs of corruption and war criminality over a scran
We’ve a five hour gap before Barbie, so naturally we’re going to spend it eating and getting on the pints. I had really hoped we’d emerge from Oppenheimer in the rain – all full of angst and bleakness only for the clouds to part and a scorching sunny day emerge ready for Barbie. Perhaps Dua Lipa’s Dance The Night could play faintly in the background. This never happened, though – but what I did leave the cinema thinking was that although with the subject matter, Oppenheimer was dark, those that claimed it was too depressing and existential to do anything after need to get a serious grip.
Seated for a big Chinese scran in Maggie Fu and a debrief on Oppenheimer with the pals. Maggie Fu was playing Barbie World by Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj fresh from the Barbie soundtrack as we walked in, which boded well. The food was alright, the film debrief was outstanding. We looked a funny bunch in a Barbenheimer day t shirt and various outfits with pink accents.
We then got suitably pissed. Not pissed enough that I couldn’t focus on Barbie and give a serious review, but drunk enough to think it was a good idea to eat big green chillis without flinching which resulted in me heading for film two with singed tastebuds.
‘Do you guys ever think about dying?’
It’s time. The hour is upon us. Barbenheimer day reaches its epic conclusion. Again, I stress about needing a piss. Barbie’s under two hours long but I’ve had five pints and an Aperol spritz. The cinema is full of the gays and the girlies in their finest pink. There’s a Barbie doll box for a photo opp, lovingly placed next to the fiery abyss of the Oppenheimer poster. I’ve never been to the cinema and felt like everyone is unanimously in an excellent mood – but perhaps that’s just because I’ve never been to the cinema after quite so many bevs.
The verdict: A rare euphoric pop culture moment where the film lives up to the hype. After a marketing campaign like none of us have ever seen in our lifetime and a viral online culture giving it five stars before even watching it, Barbie just delivers on all fronts. Hilarious, beautiful to look at, thoughtfully written and deeply moving – my friend cried for about 20 minutes. What Greta Gerwig has done with Barbie is seamlessly make a film that thrills and pleases its A24 film bro critics whilst also making sure the children who will inevitably flock to see it with its 12A rating will take loads from it. It’s the kind of film that will change lives – young girls and boys learning about feminism and being inspired by how amazing cinema and this whole industry can be without even really knowing they’re being educated on it. Phenomenal work. I left the cinema beaming.
But which was better?
To me, this was never about Barbie VS Oppenheimer, this was about Barbie AND Oppenheimer. It was about celebrating the magic of the blockbuster, the diversity of film. The fun is in celebrating the contrast rather than watching a battle over bums on seats and money made. I think when it comes down to it, I preferred Barbie – not that it was a better film, but just more to my taste with Gerwig having a filmmaking style I lean towards more. What I took away more from my Barbenheimer day was how great it felt having such a pop culture moment centred around the cinema and film, and how the excitement from both film fans and the mainstream audience was so palpable. Knowing this was around two films that weren’t a franchise, no Marvel in sight, made it all the sweeter. Barbenheimer was a day like no other, and I imagine it will be quite the while before we have something similar again. I was so glad to be a part of it.