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Barbenheimer


(Please note: this article contains plot spoilers!)


Barbie and Oppenheimer, two sharply contrasting films, were released on 21st July.


The simultaneous release sparked the imagination of cinema goers to such an extent that it became a trend to see the films back-to-back on the same day.


This has been credited with reviving the fortunes of cinemas, which have taken a huge financial hit since Covid.


On the negative side it has also been linked to a rise in a new strain of the Omicron variant of the Covid virus and it is viewed in Japan as insensitive to pair a film like Barbie with a film like Oppenheimer that tells the story of the making of the bombs that devastated two of their cities at the end of the Second World War.


My son (who did the double-header on one day) said that he enjoyed the Barbie film but found the dialogue in Oppenheimer somewhat stilted. I saw the Barbie film this week. Two weeks after its release the cinema was packed for this showing.


My assessment is that the film is a brilliant piece of communication. The opening scene depicts a group of girls playing with baby dolls. The narrator describes the scene, commentating that this is the way that little girls were taught to be wives and mothers. Then a giant Barbie doll towers over the girls who — transfixed by this innovation — smash their baby dolls and embrace the future.


The message that girls can be and do anything is compressed into a short sequence of cinematic brilliance. It is also a reminder of how powerful a cultural turn like a new toy can be in shaping the way that people think about themselves.


The film has many echoes of classic films and music. One of the most poignant sections of the film, which reminded me of the film The Truman Show, introduces us to of Barbie’s world, where everything is predictable and “perfect.” Barbie’s world is perfect until it is not.


The glitch in Barbie’s world begins when she, to the horror of the other Barbie dolls, introduces the dark unmentionable theme of death.


This glitch arises because of the actions of a child in the real world, who decides to give her Barbie dolls away. Barbie and Ken visit the real world and are both shocked and attracted by how different it is. The film wrestles with tension between a “perfect” world where everything is in place and predictable, but sterile and barren, and the real world where there is mess and uncertainty but has variety and the prospect of real life.


Preachers might learn from the Barbie film how to preach effectively to a culture that pursues perfection in identity, body image, career and relationships.


Scripture helps us through the fourfold message of Creation — Fall — Redemption — Restoration, to deal with imperfection, disappointment and loss.


Sometimes we need to learn that the better life might be at least “slightly imperfect.” We trust and follow Jesus, who, as we are reminded in the Christmas carol, “Tears and smiles like us he knew.”


Life now is good but it will not be perfect until Jesus restores all things.

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