Well, I did it – I saw not one, but two movies in the theatre this summer. That may not seem like an accomplishment to you, and while they may not have been the most “main stream” or “popular” titles out there, they were nevertheless films that were on my radar for a very long time, and for very different reasons. As someone who grew up on movies, this was the first summer in quite some time that I had my hopes up for greatness on the big screen. Since having children, and perhaps even a little before that, outings to the movie theatre have been, well, scant. Either because they start past my bedtime, or because I couldn’t shake the kids to go do my own thing, I haven’t taken in a movie on my own accord since Titanic own its Oscar for best picture…or at least that’s how it feels. The era of waiting came to an end, however, as over the past 4-weeks I took in two little indie films, of which I am happy to be the very first to review and introduce to the world, and they go by the titles Barbie and Oppenheimer. Remember those titles well, because I feel they will do will well, and you heard it here first.
I’m no certified film critic and, in fact, I don’t much care for the opinions of most official film critics these days; I feel they either miss the point or are taking themselves so seriously that they forget to just dive into the popcorn and have some fun. In any case, I’m not here to critique either of these films or to determine where they sit in the echelons of cinematic history; suffice to say that I enjoyed both of these offerings in their own unique ways, and they each left me with thoughts and feelings that. It’s those thoughts and feeling that, in the days and weeks that have followed their respective viewings, are the things I am more interested in exploring than the films themselves.
It has been suggested to me that the reason Barbie left me feeling so touched and emotional is because I am the father to two young and impressionable girls. While I can’t deny there is a truth to be found somewhere in that suggestion, I don’t think I could sit here and say it is the only reason I felt and feel how I do. For starters, I like to think of myself as someone capable of shifting mindsets, opinions, perspectives and stances on any subject matter you’d like to cover. We are in an evolving world and I am constantly learning new things about our past and present that makes me hopeful that we can together shape a better future. The subjects and information I digest on any given day cover everything from history and culture, to language and the nutritional information on a bag of Fun Dip; some things carry weightier implications than others, sure, but everything does carry a value in its own right. So, going into a movie, which I admit to have entered in a state of ‘knowing full well what Barbie was and always has been about and stood for’, I surrendered my expectations over to what I hoped would actually change my attitude and thoughts altogether, particularly given the immense talent behind the talent, both behind and in front of the camera. Walking out of said movie, I feel happy to be living in a time that feels at least somewhat hopeful that we’re making greater strides towards more open conversation, equity, respect, and an understanding that we need to think through our actions with purpose.
Are we living in a world where systemic problems are a thing of the past? Ha! Not even close – I am a middle-aged white man living in Elora, Ontario, and I can’t for a moment claim to understand what it’s like to live or have experienced anyone else’s reality. What I can do, however, is engage in a better understanding, allow room for others to speak, be heard and act, and recognize the unique talents, qualities and capabilities of individuals, at least as a start.
Oppenheimer, on the other hand, left me with feels of a different sort, even though there is a through-line that I couldn’t help but compare. This is a movie that has stuck with me in uncomfortable ways and once again has me considering my actions, decisions and the my influence over the future of our planet and the people in it.
A movie about a man and his impact on the world at large as he straddles a moral ground that would shape history, it scares me to think of what I would have done if it were me in that position. I make decisions every day, some small, with an impact only to myself – What flavour Pop Tart should I choose for breakfast? Should I put on the cow socks, or the ones with the ice cream cones? Other decisions will play into the lives of those around me and need more careful consideration – Do I take the last banana or leave it for someone else? Should I hire the person with the impeccable resume but choked in the interview, or the one with less experience but aced all of my questions? Decisions of all weights make up our day, but those of cloudy moral bearing are without a doubt far more difficult to understand, particularly when we are unsure to their true, longing impact; layer on top of that the motivations of others to see a particular outcome and it gets into scary territory.
Aside from being an obvious movie about a period in time when our world would be forever changed, the driving force within the story surrounded decisions forged and made amongst strictly white men arguing in rooms of various sizes. This connection to the previous movie only reinforced the messages and the disappointment in my heart of how much further we need to go to make real change happen. I know they were actors reading from a script, and I admit to not knowing enough about the full history of what happened to say what was fully accurate or not, but I can’t imagine it being that much different than what appeared on screen. Among the stacked cast of actors were two of the finest and most talented actresses in modern cinema, who were each given mere moments to shine, and the fewest of lines to share; a sad thing considering one of the strongest moments came from one of them near the end of the film, which only made me say, quite literally out loud: “why couldn’t we get more of her in this film?!”. While these creative choices may have been made to stay historically accurate, it served as a very clear reminder that we still need to do better today, and I can’t help but think that the filmmakers could have done exactly that.
I may be portraying here that both of these cinematic experiences were bleak and depressing, which is not the message I’m intending. I laughed numerous times throughout the Barbie experience, almost as much as I cried during the heartfelt moments that inspired me. In contrast, Oppenheimer is certainly not a comedy, but it is thought-provoking and moving in some very impactful ways and I can’t shake its themes. From both experiences it has been a couple of weeks of deep thought and emotion, which is perhaps not what you’re looking for from the movies, but I appreciate when art makes me feel, and these two films checked the right boxes for me. I’m not sure if you’ll be able to find them playing in your area, given their obscurity, but if you happen to see either of them appear on a marquee, then I recommend pulling over, grabbing a bag of popcorn and taking in the unique spectacle that each has to offer. Then, go home and hug your kids for as long as you can.