This writer and his girlfriend went to Barbenheimer on opening day, enjoying the elation of Barbie and the horror of Oppenheimer.

My Girlfriend and I Braved Barbenheimer on Opening Day

While I mostly like to write about video games and anime here at The Escapist, my girlfriend and I are both major cinephiles. We watch every major new release and love to talk about each of them, even going so far as to make our own personal “Top 10 Best and Worst” lists at the end of the year just for fun. We love movies and for the past month, we’ve been looking forward to what many on the internet have called the cinematic event of the year — Barbenheimer (Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer).

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The two films could not be further apart tonally and stylistically, but that has made it all the more compelling to watch both movies back to back. What would it be like to watch a breezy and lighthearted comedy aimed at women alongside a gritty and somber examination of the creation of the atomic bomb that’s targeted a more masculine mindset? So this weekend, tens of thousands of people are going to watch both back to back and engage in nearly five hours of cinematic bliss. And we’re two of those people.

We first had to decide which movie we would see first. While we debated for about a week over which would come first, we eventually settled on Barbie as our first watch for two reasons. First, Barbie is a lot more energetic, so we were hoping that the energy from that film would keep us going for the three-hour endurance test that would be Oppenheimer. Second, assuming the film climaxes or ends with the Trinity test and Christopher Nolan’s impressive atomic bomb detonation, we would be like Oppenheimer and the rest of the scientists present and be so stunned and horrified by what we witnessed that we didn’t even want to risk that interfering with our enjoyment of Barbie.

And so, our plan was set. The day came, we had our wardrobe all selected for both films, (Yes, we changed in-between films.) and we went to the theater where we would see both movies. We would see Barbie in Dolby Cinema and Oppenheimer in IMAX. We pulled up to the theater, and we were ready to start our Barbenheimer journey.

This writer and his girlfriend went to Barbenheimer on opening day, enjoying the elation of Barbie and the horror of Oppenheimer.

Before we even stopped inside, a woman drove past us blaring Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and proceeded to scream out the window. I had no idea if she was yelling at us since we were clearly in Barbie attire, but I decided to cheer back at her. My girlfriend just kept walking and left me to my own devices. Once inside, we were able to snag two “I <3 Barbie” pins and took our seats after taking a few pictures in front of the Barbie poster.

Immediately we noticed just the sea of pink in the leather-black Dolby Cinema seats. Pink and white dotted the entire theater with no free seats, except for one next to me for some reason, meaning I got extra legroom. Without going into too much detail about the film, Barbie was an absolute blast. At first I thought the movie was going to be a fairly simple fish-out-of-water comedy much in the same vein as Elf, but there was a lot more depth and deep philosophical exploration on ideas like self-actualization, gender, and the nature of ideas and their impact on people. All of this… from the Barbie movie. And it’s probably one of my favorite movies of the year.

And the audience seemed to feel that too. There was a lot of energy and excitement at the beginning, with the audience laughing and clapping at the moments you would expect them to. I could even hear a few tears coming from the audience at a certain montage towards the end. Granted, some of those tears may have been from my girlfriend sitting next to me, but the film easily impacted people.

When the movie ended, we were going to our car to do a quick wardrobe change and passed scores upon scores of Barbie fans. Women in white and pink, posing in front of the poster like we did, but the theater had also set up a little display with pink wallpaper and like two balloons for photos no more than six or eight feet wide. There was a legit queue for this barely thought-out Barbie display. But given that my girlfriend and I, now dressed fully in black, would stick out like a sore thumb, we decided to just go and get to the Oppenheimer screening, but not before getting a Bavarian Legend pretzel to keep us fed for the three-hour screening.

This writer and his girlfriend went to Barbenheimer on opening day, enjoying the elation of Barbie and the horror of Oppenheimer.

If the Barbie theater was full of young and brightly dressed people excited for what they were about to watch, Oppenheimer was the polar opposite. The theater was fully packed, as expected, but the number of people over the age of 60 was pretty staggering. I’m not surprised at all that Oppenheimer skewed towards an older audience, but I was more impressed with the fact that so many people my parents’ age would show up to the very first available screening. I was also impressed with just how hot it was in the theater, being uncomfortably warm in there to the point where my girlfriend said it was hotter than the atomic bomb detonation they showed in the film. But we endured.

There was a guy on my right though, and as the movie began, he mumbled to whomever he was with that this was “the movie event of the year.” And after seeing Oppenheimer, it’s really hard to deny that claim. The tension that was slowly built up and developed over the film was palpable and really drove home the impending sense of dread that Christopher Nolan wanted to convey with the advent of the nuclear age. While the film didn’t end as I predicted with the culmination of the Trinity test, it instead ended on probably an even graver and somber note that left us speechless. The audience gently applauded as the credits rolled, and people silently left. No raucous applause and cheers like in Barbie. Just stunned silence.

When we left, we were once again inundated with the Barbie horde, still ready to party with their favorite girl. I couldn’t even muster up a conversation with my girlfriend. We just silently walked out and made our way to our car. My girlfriend was recovering from the nuclear heat of the Oppenheimer theater, and I was just tired. Leaving, we saw a Crumbl Cookie and decided to treat ourselves to a plethora of cookies as we began to drive back home, debating the merits of both movies.

This writer and his girlfriend went to Barbenheimer on opening day, enjoying the elation of Barbie and the horror of Oppenheimer.

We agreed on several things after experiencing Barbenheimer. First, we agreed that we correctly decided on which movie to see first. Barbie had a bright and uplifting ending, with the coda the movie left us on being pleasant and generally feel-good. It made it easy to go into Oppenheimer and become acquainted with the mood the movie was going for. If we decided to do Oppenheimer first, there was no way we could go into Barbie with an open mindset. The oppressive atmosphere would have infiltrated our experience, and there was a chance that our enjoyment of Barbie would have indeed been hindered by Oppenheimer.

We also both agreed that this was the best double feature either of us have seen. Weirdly enough, the movies complement each other. Yes, from a production standpoint these movies share virtually nothing in common, but both movies are about one thing: death. The thoughts of death and the specter of the end that hangs over us all, be it from our own insecurities, anxiety, and depression, or from a fiery explosion that would render our flesh and end us within an instant. Death is omnipresent, but each film approached it in one of two ways. We could either quietly accept it and let us consume our every thought and action like with Oppenheimer or let it help us live our life to the fullest and enjoy every second of it like with Barbie.

So as we settled down for the night, thoughts of toys and nuclear armageddon fresh in our minds, we knew that this would not be the end. Both films are excellent and deserve your time. It’s a miracle that this double feature actually turned out as well as it did and that both movies are going to probably be discussed for the rest of the year, especially come awards season time. And when that time comes when Barbie and Oppenheimer are nominated for Best Picture, Barbenheimer will be back. And we will have to decide which movie is better. It’s too soon to say which movie is the “winner,” but I’ve opted to take Cillian Murphy’s stance on the Barbenheimer phenomenon: It doesn’t matter which movie is better. Both movies are great, so the ultimate winner in this whole endeavor is cinema in general.

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Jesse Lab
Jesse Lab is a freelance writer for The Escapist and has been a part of the site since 2019. He currently writes the Frame Jump column, where he looks at and analyzes major anime releases. He also writes for the film website Jesse has been a gamer since he first played Pokémon Snap on the N64 and will talk to you at any time about RPGs, platformers, horror, and action games. He can also never stop talking about the latest movies and anime, so never be afraid to ask him about recommendations on what's in theaters and what new anime is airing each season.