The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

HEAD TO HEAD | While “Oppenheimer” is great, “Barbie” is just Kenough for me

Yumi Domangue


On July 21, two long-anticipated films made their debut in theaters: Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” 

As expected, each movie had a titanic showing at the box office. The biopic featuring the “father of the atomic bomb” has grossed over $700 million, while the movie starring the iconic Mattel doll has grossed over $1 billion, a first for a film led by a female director.  

Since the announcement of their shared release date, the two films with polar opposite aesthetics have been joined at the hip. The internet has run rampant with funny jokes and memes asking viewers which movie they’ll see first. In the “Barbenheimer” War, are you on Team Barbie or Team Oppenheimer? 

Each film is an achievement in artistry and filmmaking. Gerwig and Nolan should be proud of their respective films, as each serves as a stellar addition to their already fantastic careers. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” will surely rake in numerous prestigious award nominations once awards season begins. 

However, I, admittedly, have been on Team Barbie since the beginning of the “Barbenheimer” War. While I fully expected Nolan’s biopic to be better than “Barbie,” I had clearly underestimated Gerwig’s ability to craft compelling, human-driven narratives. While both movies are marvelous in their own right, “Barbie,” in my view, does just Kenough for me to view it as the superior film. 

First, the art design of “Barbie” is breathtakingly beautiful. Obviously, the movie is infinitely more vibrant than the mute, melancholy exterior of  “Oppenheimer.” While that is no fault of Nolan’s film, I personally value color and art design in film very highly, and “Barbie” has such design in spades. 

The movie occurs in two main settings: Barbieland and the Real World. In Barbieland, the environment is drenched in pink, from the roads, to the dreamhouses, to Barbie’s signature cruiser. The set design transported the audience into a life-size version of their childhood mini-Barbie neighborhood. The costume design, as well, is striking. While nearly every character is a version of Barbie or Ken, they all have unique looks that aid them in developing their own personalities. The film, simply put, is a gorgeous sight to behold.  

Next, the ensemble is one of the film’s greatest strengths; specifically, Barbie, Ken and Gloria each have unique, engaging personalities that flourish thanks to their actors’ performances. Barbie, played by two-time Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie, is a character with greater depth than initially perceived. Robbie gives a phenomenal performance, as her subtle choices reveal more and more of the inner turmoil Barbie feels about death, the patriarchy and human complexity as the movie unfolds. 

America Ferrara played Barbie’s real-life owner, Gloria, toiling away from anxiety over the prospect of death and neglect from her teenage daughter, which results in her playing with Barbie dolls again as a coping mechanism. Ferrara does impeccable work portraying the hardships of being a working mother. Her now-famous monologue to the Barbies, where she explained the complexities and impossible standards innate to being a human woman that they nevertheless have to reach, helps them snap out of their Ken-induced patriarchy trance. 

The standout, in my view, though, is undoubtedly Ryan Gosling’s Ken. Gosling gives what I believe is an Oscar-worthy performance throughout the film. He devours every second of his screen time with hilarious line deliveries and over-the-top acting. 

While his acting is exaggerated and cartoonish, he’s able to imbue the character with enough emotional depth that the audience still feels connected to Ken. He perfectly captured every wrinkle of Ken’s character: he’s naive, vindictive and shallow, and it all stems from his desire to get Barbie to notice him. 

Her lack of attention makes him jealous and angry, and after witnessing the Real World’s rampant patriarchy and sexism, overturns Barbieland’s established sociopolitical systems in favor of a system that allows the Kens to rule.  

Each of these characters serves as the film’s emotional core, and the actors did wonderful jobs bringing these fictional beings to life.  

Most of all, what makes “Barbie” such a great movie and ultimately makes it better than “Oppenheimer” are the movie’s themes. Going into the theater, I expected a lighthearted family film about the popular plastic doll; I never expected to be met with such an introspective piece with witty Easter eggs of humor. Gerwig and her co-writer Noah Baumbach penned a film consumed with themes of patriarchy, family and what it means to navigate these issues daily as a human being. 

Through Barbie’s perspective, the audience gets to see the violence of patriarchy and male insecurity: we see familial struggles between a mother and daughter with different views of the world; and finally, we see Barbie experience humanity’s messy, gushy, sometimes frightening entanglement of thoughts and emotions that never truly go away. 

The Barbies save Barbieland from Ken’s tyranny. Ken gets to develop as his own person and break away from the societal expectation of being just Barbie’s boyfriend. Gloria and her daughter got to save Barbieland and grow closer. There’s no such satisfying conclusion for Barbie but, instead, a new beginning. 

In the final scene, Barbie took the hands of her creator, Ruth, and experienced the full spectrum of human emotion. She asked Ruth if she can be human, and Ruth said she doesn’t need to ask to be human. 

Therein lies the theme of humanity that resides at the movie’s core: as humans, we don’t have to ask to live, we just do, and by being alive we engage in what all of life has to offer at all times, both good and bad. 

Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is a remarkable work of art, and I’d understand if some audiences feel more drawn to it than Gerwig’s film. However, very few films could top “Barbie’s” emotional resonance. The design, acting and themes are all brought together masterfully under Gerwig’s direction. The film made me laugh, nearly cry and most importantly, think about my place as a human being in the world. I wholeheartedly loved the movie and I fully believe it is the superior film to “Oppenheimer.” 

Ironically, a movie about a plastic, lifeless doll is one of the few pieces of tremendous media that captures the joys and tribulations of being human.

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About the Contributors
Kennith Woods, News Editor
Kennith Woods is a sophomore communication major with a concentration in television and multimedia journalism and a creative writing minor. A resident of Prairieville, Kennith is The Lion’s Roar’s newly-minted news editor. His passion for progressive change within our communities is the driving factor behind his educational pursuits, as he wants to use journalism to facilitate vital information to the public and simultaneously serve as a mouthpiece for the people’s needs and concerns.
Yumi Domangue, Staff Reporter & Graphic Designer
Yumi Domangue is a double major in mechatronics engineering technology and new media and animation. She joined Student Publications in the Fall of 2021 as a graphic designer. She intends to use her skills to have a career in design.
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  • R

    Roselyn RivasAug 21, 2023 at 6:49 pm

    Beautifully written. I also enjoyed how the story of a plastic, lifeless doll, made me feel the most on what it means to be human.