by Paul Oswell
What’s the crossover point of nuclear weapons and a famous American doll? Probably the bikini, right?
In 1946, Europeans experienced their first summer without war in years. The air was ripe with optimism, and in France, designer Louis Réard noticed women rolling up the edges of their bathing suits to improve their tans. He created a skimpy two-piece bathing suit using a few triangles of fabric. Across the world in the south Pacific, Bikini Atoll was being used for atomic bomb tests. The islands took their name from a local word, ‘pikinni,’ meaning ‘coconut place.’ Réard thought his invention was as ‘small and devastating’ as the atom bomb, and bikinis were born.
Oppenheimer - Chris Nolan’s biopic of the eccentric physician heading up the Manhattan Project - doesn’t concern itself with fashion, although there are some gratuitously saucy clips that go way beyond flashing midriffs (more on this).
At three hours long, it’s something of a test of endurance, especially given the decidedly un-cinematic plethora of scenes that are mostly just men arguing in a broom cupboard. Other scenes include men arguing at parties, men arguing in congressional hearings and men arguing on trains. Oops, they accidentally-on-purpose invented a devasting weapon, and now there’s some moral qualms about using it, and the world-ending doors that its use inevitably opens.
I found that the conflicts - Oppenheimer’s personal ones as well as the larger ethical/political picture - carried the drama well enough, and given that there’s only one ‘action’ scene (the testing of the bomb), I personally didn’t feel that it dragged.
There are some surprising revelations. Much of the first part of the movie is negotiating Oppie’s romantic tangles. He was quite the player, let me tell you. Apparently he was irresistible, and he didn’t even look like Cillian Murphy that much in real life. Still, it rounds out the character nicely. Otherwise we’d just be watching repeated heated discussions of theoretical physics.
There are some fun cameos - Tom Conti as Albert Einstein for example - and a Salieri/Mozart-type storyline with embittered scientist Lewis Strauss (Robert Downy Jr). Florence Pugh spends much of her screen time in the nude, and I’m not too sure how it advances the plot but Nolan seems to think it important.
There’s lots of Communist hunting and intellectual jousting, and of course it’s a huge topic. In some ways, we are all living in the post-credits sequence. They also make Oppenheimer say his famous line (“Now I am become Death, etc”) twice, just for kicks. But overall, it’s a commendable achievement, imho.
Two hours after Oppenheimer finished, I was laughing at Ryan Gosling being a plastic doll. Barbie could not be more diametrically opposed as a movie, and I’m glad we saw them both in this order.
I am Very Much Not The Demographic for Barbie, but Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach deliver a witty, self-aware script that elevates this film way above, say, The Emoji Movie or Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Given that it’s essentially two hours of product placement, it’s a biting, near-subversive commentary on gender politics, and two-thirds of the way through, America Ferrera delivers a feminist manifesto that is genuinely rousing. I can understand why Ben Shapiro pretends to hate it for money, and that in itself is pleasing to me.
Margot Robbie, Kate McKinnon and America Ferrara all deliver, and Ryan Gosling’s commitment to the role of Ken is impressive. Issa Rae and Michael Cera are also absolutely loving their roles.
If you want six hours of experiencing just about every emotion that you could feel watching movies, I heartily recommend the double bill. Just be careful about the order and remember the old saying: “Oppenheimer before Barbie, you’ll still want to party; Barbie before Oppenheimer, you might have a bad time-a.”
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