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Barbenheimer – The Namibian


The first thing I want to know before committing to the five-hour marathon that is ‘Barbenheimer’ is: Will there be time to pee?

The movie teller who fields my question cocks his head, as if gauging my ability to urinate at speed before sprinting to the next screening room, then gives a short, sharp nod, capped with a confident “you’ll make it”.

With the teller’s assurance secured, I hurry to the cinema to do what movie lovers have been doing all weekend: watching Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ and Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ back to back.

The viral double feature viewing is what happens when you allow the internet to run your life.

Since the films’ respective studios announced that the movies would be released on the same day, instead of falling into factions and throwing our consumer clout behind one or the other, folks have decided to watch both consecutively.

In the weeks leading up to the shared premiere, the memes about it have been wild and the whole thing has been dubbed ‘Barbenheimer’. A portmanteau of the films’ titles and perhaps the most anticipated movie event since ‘Black Panther’ in 2018.

As I’ve become accustomed to seeing movies entirely alone on a random weekday, I skip the weekend influx and clock into ‘Barbenheimer’ on a Monday morning.

Though I’m one of a few people there, my pee question is crucial not because of any anticipated queues but because ‘Oppenheimer’ is an attention-demanding three hours and ‘Barbie’ runs for two immediately after.

There’s been some debate about the viewing order. ‘Oppie’ (Oppenheimer and then Barbie) or ‘Barbenheimer’ (Barbie then Oppenheimer). I choose to call it ‘Barbenheimer’ and view it ‘Oppie’ because I have a feeling Nolan’s film is going to be a total mind f*#k, if not thoroughly depressing.

Biopics about J Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called “father of the atomic bomb”, will do that to you. Depress you, I mean.

In one scene, some then and supposed master of the universe decides not to drop an atomic bomb on Kyoto because, among other things, he and his wife honeymooned there.

It’s chilling beyond belief and the treatment of Oppenheimer himself is unsettling, cautionary, sanitising and strange.

Actor Cillian Murphy, who embodies Oppenheimer’s genius and idiosyncrasies, is intense and no doubt a frontrunner in the next race for the Academy Awards. But knowing what happened to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one leaves the cinema completely wrecked by the lengths humanity will go to for supremacy, not to mention how vulnerable we all are and how nihilistic life can feel in the age of nuclear power.

As I sprint to the toilet and careen into ‘Barbie’, the weight of ‘Oppenheimer’ is still heavy on my heart. At first, the tonal shift between the two films is effectively psychological whiplash but ultimately ‘Barbie’ isn’t what you think it’s going to be.

You’ll be forgiven for being fooled. From lead actor Margot Robbie’s beaming, vintage Barbie fashion press tour and the frothy pink Barbiecore-clad people who swarm their festive local cinema premieres to view the nostalgia-fueled film en masse, all signs point to Barbie being fun.

And it is, at some level and in spurts.

But mostly it’s a feminist and tear-jerking take on the doll that was once at the centre of numerous childhoods, sometimes toxic, other times uplifting, always a marker of what womanhood should look like as a highly Westernised and exclusionary ideal.

At the beginning, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, skinny, gorgeous Robbie embodies that ideal, but thoughts of death, flat feet and the appearance of cellulite soon send her into an existential spiral that has her leaving the Utopian, effervescent, women-run ‘Barbieland’ for the hellish, sexist, patriarchal real world. More on this in my full-length film review.

For now, it suffices to say that to view ‘Oppenheimer’ and ‘Barbie’ as essentially one long rumination on humanity is a lot.

The emotional rollercoaster that is Nolan’s bleak and political ‘Oppenheimer’ followed by Gerwig’s poignant, pink Trojan horse is something that neither planned but which makes for a singular if not internally exhausting double feature.

Mentally, it’s chaotic.

But isn’t life?

All the violence and all the death and all the pain of real and happening life followed by the dizzying escapism of things like Instagram, TikTok … and the movies.

– [email protected]; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram;

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