Barbie, Oppenheimer go existential

By Dr. Herman M. Lagon

IN A  world where ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ reign supreme, who would have thought that these seemingly polarized personalities would have more in common than meets the eye? As these blockbusters continue to dominate the box office, Filipino moviegoers find themselves torn between cotton candy-colored fantasy and dark historical drama. But look closer, and you will realize they share a more profound theme and unexpected depth that resonate with Filipino viewers.

‘Barbie’ follows the iconic plastic doll as she ventures into the real world, questioning her place and purpose in a seemingly perfect utopia. Surprisingly, ‘Oppenheimer,’ based on the life of physicist and creator of the atomic bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer, also grapples with existential questions about life and death, exploring the consequences of his actions.

Both films have struck a chord with Filipino and foreign audiences, drawing thousands to theaters or “free” video sites for this ultimate “Barbenheimer” experience. Despite their contrasting aesthetics, the movies unite viewers by examining complex issues.

“Barbie” represents a satirical critique of patriarchy, a playful but profound exploration of women’s roles and self-acceptance. On the other hand, “Oppenheimer” delves into the haunting aftermath of the atomic bomb’s creation, prompting contemplation on the sanctity of life.

But there is more to this unlikely pairing than memes and ticket sales. The juxtaposition of masculine and feminine themes challenges viewers to ponder life’s meaning in the face of destruction and creation. The characters’ journeys of forgiveness and penance offer a glimpse into the human experience.

For us Filipinos, both films are a reflection of contemporary struggles. The nation grapples with existential threats, be it climate change, political clownery, moral dilemma, educational collapse, economic, debt crisis, or global pandemics. Through “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” Filipinos find an avenue to confront complex issues, resonating with the films’ emotional depth.

“Barbie” may be bright and bubbly, but beneath its surface lies a profound message. The film’s creators carefully navigate the plastic world’s inherent contradictions and how it relates to the real world’s complexities. The struggle for self-acceptance is relatable to us viewers, grappling with societal expectations and evolving gender roles.

On the other hand, “Oppenheimer” taps into a historical wound—the impact of war and violence on innocent lives. With our deep-rooted history of conflicts and colonization, we can easily empathize with the characters’ regrets and the search for redemption.

The unexpected parallel between these two movies challenges moviegoers to confront the intricacies of life and death in a “Barbenheimer” universe. Both entertain and educate, offering a blend of escapism and contemplation for viewers of varying movie maturity.

As the box office success of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” continues, Filipino and foreign viewers embrace the opportunity to delve into life’s complexities through the silver screen. ‘Barbenheimer’ may be an unusual pair, but it exemplifies the power of film in bringing existential questions to the forefront of our consciousness.

So, whether you dream in pink or explore dark historical realms, embrace the ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ in you. “Barbenheimer” is here to stay, proving that even in the world of entertainment, polarized personalities can find surprising common ground. As we journey through life, let us take a cue from these blockbuster icons and ponder the meaning of our existence amidst the chaos and the beauty of our world.


Dr. Herman Lagon fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice. He is a professor of ISUFST, a student of USLS, a retiree of Ateneo, and an alumnus of UP, UI, and WVSU.