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Does ‘Barbenheimer’ Offer A Glimmer of Hope for National Unity?

Posted on Friday, August 18, 2023
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by Aaron Flanigan
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AMAC Exclusive – By Aaron Flanigan

Oppenheimer movie poster in movie theater entrance to show national unity

In a summer dominated by mounting reports of White House corruption, promiscuous drag parades marketed to children, and Democrats’ relentless persecution of their top political opponent, the prospect of a return to national unity often seems close to impossible. But even in the midst of unprecedented national division, this summer has also offered a rare but much-needed glimmer of hope—and perhaps from an unlikely source.

On the weekend of July 21, perhaps for the first time in years, tens of millions of Americans rushed to the cinema, many of them going for the first time in years, for the opening weekend of two eagerly anticipated films: Oppenheimer, Christoper Nolan’s three-hour drama centered on J. Robert Oppenheimer’s development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and Barbie, an adult comedy about the doll franchise.

Despite the obvious thematic differences between the two films, their releases—which fell on the same day—sparked a massive cultural phenomenon dubbed “Barbenheimer” by some moviegoers. The term refers to the juxtaposition of the subject matter and aesthetics of the two films—with many viewers going to the theater to see them back-to-back.

The result of this phenomenon was the fourth-largest movie weekend in U.S. history, drawing Americans to theatres in numbers rarely seen since the advent of digital streaming services and the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively, the two movies earned more than $235.5 million during their opening weekend, “reinvigorating the domestic box office,” in the words of CNBC. To date, Oppenheimer has earned more than $650 million worldwide, while Barbie has raked in nearly $1.2 billion.

The two films’ greatest achievement, however, might be how they successfully created a national cultural moment that has transcended the political and social divisions that remain omnipresent elsewhere in American life. Thanks to “Barbenheimer,” for the first time in recent memory, the summer blockbuster has returned—and is providing Americans with a much-needed refuge from the daily fire drill of our nation’s deepening political and cultural turmoil.

At summer barbecues and pool parties, Americans of all political stripes could safely strike up a conversation about the summer’s two hit films—which unlike most of the blockbusters of recent history, did not depend on the built-in fan bases of the remakes and comic book spinoffs that, while financially successful, have often failed to achieve a broader cultural impact.

To be sure, there was still some political controversy surrounding the films – Barbie in particular. Some conservatives slammed the flick as an adventure in radical feminist ideology, although that viewpoint was far from the consensus on the right. Ben Shapiro and Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire, for instance, debated whether Barbie is in fact a far-left feminist screed, or instead a rebuke of radical feminist ideology and a celebration of traditional gender roles—a question that remains a point of contention among thought leaders on both the left and the right.

Some on the left also criticized Oppenheimer for not portraying the full scope of the destruction wrought on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for failing to adequately challenge the claim that use of the bombs was a military necessity. Meanwhile, some conservatives questioned whether the film was something of a whitewash of the title character’s flirtation with communism.

In either case, unlike the vast majority of other recent Hollywood releases, Oppenheimer and Barbie are not merely left-wing propaganda reels dressed up in flashy special effects, even if some ideas and themes they explore are inherently political. In a refreshing change of pace, they have sparked a series of genuine debates about important issues – a defining characteristic of good art.

Both films also elicited genuine excitement from Americans of every political persuasion—a rare feat in today’s hyper-politicized film landscape. Although they may have disagreed about the underlying themes and messages of the films, the vast majority of people on both sides of the aisle were, at the very least, entertained.

Of course, the country will require a great deal more than the release of two movies to restore national unity and reestablish a sense of sanity and patriotism in our public life. Hollywood wokeism remains on the upswing, and the left’s cultural dominance probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

But the fact that “Barbenheimer” has both brought conservatives back to the cinema while simultaneously prompting a series of political and philosophical debates about contemporary films signals that not all is lost for conservatives—and there is indeed hope for the future of American culture.

These films have not been the only sign of a cultural renaissance. Earlier this summer, Sound of Freedom, a film about the evils of human trafficking, was a major success at the box office, beating out Disney’s new Indiana Jones film in July 4th ticket sales and opening at number one in several states despite appearing in fewer theatres. With a small production budget and virtually no marketing, Sound of Freedom became a cultural sensation that also brought attention to an extremely serious issue that transcends political divisions.

In another example of a budding cultural resurgence, earlier this month, Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond”—an impassioned bluegrass-country song about the corruption of the Washington, D.C., ruling class and the forgotten men and women of America—went viral, receiving more than 15 million views in only a week. The song was later hailed by left-wing NBC News as a “conservative anthem.”

Anthony’s success also came just a few weeks after Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town,” a ballad denouncing the crime running rampant in major cities and celebrating the community and traditional values that define small town America, rocketed to the top of the country music charts amid liberal outrage.

Though it is unlikely that these developments alone are enough to declare the coming end of cultural wokeism, they are unquestionably a step in the right direction.

Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.

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Rik
Rik
10 months ago

You won’t get unity by having a so-called President that LIES EVERYTIME HE SPEAKS!

Laura Bentz
Laura Bentz
10 months ago

Yeah, I think it’s going to take more than two or three movies to bring any sense of unity to the country. If we all turned back to God, yeah, there may be hope. But, no, that’s probably not going to happen any time soon unless things get worse… But even if that finally happens, it will probably be too late. Sorry I’m so cynical, but I’ve lived a few years and know that for 60 years we’ve been slowly decaying and there’s no signs that will change any times soon… Just look at an old movie from the 80’s and compare the difference…

David Campbell
David Campbell
10 months ago

Saw Oppenheimer. Great movie. Recommend it. There is a cadre of people, primarily on the left, that will always say negative things about any movie that isn’t, in their opinion, anti war enough. (And conversly, will gush over any movie that is blatently anti war, no matter the actual quality of the movie, such as the remake of “All Quiet on the Western Front”; stick with one of the classic versions.) Oppenheimer is about Oppenheimer, not war in general, or the controversy around the dropping of the bombs (those things do inevitably come up in the movie). If you want to see a movie about Oppenheimer, see it. If you want to see an anti war movie or something about why dropping the bombs was an atrocity, take a pass.
Didn’t see Barbie. Have no intention of seeing Barbei. That’s not a comment on the movie; it’s just not a movie made for me. Did watch a number of YouTube reviews as I figured this would be a film that attracted a lot of viewers and, with the culture being what it is these days, wanted to know what was what. As in the article, the reviews were mixed, and mixed based on people who’s opinions I respect. I find that in itself to be interesting. I conclude that it must be good art when people that are usually in general agreement can have vastly different takes on the movie. I further conclude that if you see this movie, you will see what you expect to see.

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
10 months ago

I’ll reserve judgement until I see them either on HBO or Showtime. Both left and right have the habit of overblowing what they see as “messaging”.

FJB
FJB
10 months ago

Anyone who uses “Barbenheimer”, or other similar stupid sayings (“Benifer” etc…) should be given a life prison sentence!

cmw
cmw
10 months ago

Oppenheimer reminded me of what is happening to Trump.

War
War
10 months ago

from The way things are going the only unity to be found is when we burn your lands like Sherman did lol

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