Skip to content

KOLI: What 'Barbenheimer' teaches us about humanity

Column: Talk More

Viewers of both "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" will witness two very different sides of humanity: the beautiful and the ugly. Both are important to remember. – Photo by @JustRalphyyy /

There is no debate that Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" and Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" were some of the most highly anticipated movies of this summer, and the praise both received from the public is well deserved.

Both films include incredible directors, talented casts, outstanding soundtracks and, not to mention, memorable costumes and scripts.

From the breathtaking and haunting visuals in "Oppenheimer" to the humorous and moving dialogue of "Barbie," the cultural phenomenon of "Barbenheimer" had viewers on the edges of their seats. But it also left audiences with important messages worth thinking about.

Despite being worlds apart, the duality of humanity is still present in both films.

"Oppenheimer" showcases destructive historical realities that humans have brought upon themselves, while "Barbie" highlights the human struggle, from the difficulties the world throws at people to the interpersonal complications the characters have with each other.

What is important about "Barbie" is that Gerwig shows the different sides humans tend to have. It critiques how the patriarchy has continuously run society in the "real world."

"Barbieland," the world in which the Barbies and Kens (and Allan!) live, is initially free from male dominance. The Barbies support each other, making each other feel worthy of their accomplishments instead of being doubtful and insecure, like how many women in the real world constantly feel.

At the end of Gerwig's film, Barbie (Margot Robbie), the stereotypical and perfect Barbie, decides to join the "real world" by giving up her life in "Barbieland." This means she will now embrace every part of being an actual human — the good and the not-so-good.

Gerwig's choice to steer the film in this direction is so profound because the audience sees Barbie live in a place described as "perfect." Still, Barbie would rather embrace the vulnerability and compassion that comes with being human, even though it can be difficult.

As for "Oppenheimer," it is more than just a biopic.

Physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) used his gift of knowledge and curiosity to create a weapon of mass destruction: the atomic bomb, a result of the Manhattan Project. Nolan illustrates events that took place approximately 80 years ago, but these themes are just as relevant today with the threat of the nuclear bomb.

From one perspective, humans want to advance in science and be ahead of everyone else. But on the other hand, our desire to be exceptional clashes with desperation, enabling us to create something so ruinous, which shows how destructive and ignorant humanity can become.

Oppenheimer may have unlocked unprecedented scientific achievements, but as a result, thousands of people died due to what he created. Yet the destruction of humanity was not only brought upon by the bomb but also by the power of men who had the bomb at their disposal.

Those who hold a weapon of mass destruction are driven to commit inhumane acts against humanity and, in doing so, are destroying themselves because they disregard human lives. Nolan's film ends with Oppenheimer speaking to Albert Einstein (Tom Conti), telling him that his accomplishments are leading to the destruction of the world.

Viewers witness Oppenheimer seeing visions of nukes fired into the sky, missiles flying and the world being set on fire.

He closes his eyes in despair, overwhelmed by these images. 

This particular scene in "Oppenheimer" contrasts a scene in "Barbie" where she sees visions of womanhood and what it means to be a human on Earth. She sees snippets from the real lives of women in the world and experiences both the magnificence and pain of it, allowing her to truly discover humanity.

Ultimately, humanity is found in one film, and in the other, it is put to an end.

The beauty of cinema is that people can take two seemingly unrelated things and find a way to connect them. "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" are worlds apart aesthetically and plot-wise, but the two filmmakers created remarkable films that parallel each other.

Together, "Barbenheimer" makes people stop and consider what it means to be a human in a world filled with just as much beauty as there is pain.

Vidhi Koli is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences, where she is undecided. Her column, 'Talk More,' runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Due to space limitations in our print newspaper, letters to the editor must not exceed 900 words. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 700 and 900 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day's publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe