A doll and a very real man. Adapted for the big screen by writer-director Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan, respectively, the life stories of these 20th-century icons have become the most talked-about films of the post-pandemic era. That the seemingly opposite projects—a quasi-musical about Barbie, with her Dreamhouse and hot pink aesthetic, and a biopic about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb and destroyer of worlds—would open on the same day (that’s July 21, tomorrow!) and play side by side at movie theatres is a bona fide pop-culture phenomenon of its own. Like the popular saying goes: “Inside of you there are two wolves.”
One of these wolves has resulted in a deluge of content unlike anything we’ve seen before—can you even remember life before Barbiecore took over everything? Barbie is always happy and dressed like she’s got somewhere fun to be. In the movie, she’s outfitted in quite a bit of Chanel. She is also a beloved (and sometimes maligned) American product with decades of marketing behind her, so it makes sense that everyone grabbed onto this aesthetic. The crazier and more screwed up the real world gets, the more we find ourselves wishing for the “no thoughts, just vibes” lifestyle of our favourite plastic girl.
But you know who also probably wished for a “no thoughts, just vibes” lifestyle? One Mr. J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Of course, war itself could also be described as an American product with decades—nay, centuries—of marketing behind it. As vastly different as they look, these two films deal with similar subjects. Now I’m not saying that Oppenheimer is Barbie for men, though it’s true that people went as crazy for Cillian Murphy in a sheer Saint Laurent shirt at a recent premiere as they have for Margot Robbie’s many archival Barbie-inspired red-carpet looks. And that got me thinking about Oppenheimercore—what would an aesthetic trend created around darkness and destruction look like?