Which area is the better menace to humanity: Northern California or Southern California?
That’s essentially the most pressing query raised by 2023’s nice cinematic contest between “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie”.
Certain, these are entertaining movies a couple of physicist and a doll. However each films are additionally, in no small half, California-based tales about international nightmares, in regards to the earth-altering menace of bombs and bombshells alike.
Embedded in these nightmares are warnings in regards to the harm that Northern and Southern California can do after we ship our concepts out into the world.
Oppenheimer is the Northern California nightmare. Whereas a lot of Christopher Nolan’s movie takes place in New Mexico, the place the primary atomic bombs had been constructed, crucial moments happen at Berkeley, the place J. Robert Oppenheimer was a a professor from 1929 to 1943.
It’s there that he meets the Manhattan Venture’s navy chief, Leslie Groves, and befriends the physicist Ernest Lawrence (the Lawrence of the Bay Space’s Lawrence Livermore Nationwide Lab), who turns into a vital collaborator within the Manhattan Venture. In actual fact, the lab in New Mexico that produced the nuclear bombs finally ends up being managed by the College of California.
The entire endeavor is a quintessential Bay Space enterprise. Very sensible individuals from world wide come collectively to quickly create a disruptive know-how, with out totally appreciating its perils and issues till it’s too late. Oppenheimer has prompted comparisons to how Silicon Valley applied sciences at the moment are making obtainable synthetic intelligence instruments with out understanding their penalties.
Among the many nuclear age’s cultural and business merchandise was Barbie (born in 1959). She, and the brand new movie about her, are Los Angeles nightmares. The director Greta Gerwig is a Sacramento child who shares her dwelling metropolis’s loathing of all issues L.A. So, her movie pins many of the harm that Barbie has completed on Southern California, the place she was invented and manufactured.
Barbie, like Los Angeles itself, is a sun-splashed comedy with a darkish noir coronary heart.
The central joke of the movie is that when Barbie, in surprising existential disaster, leaves the seeming perfection of Barbieland for “Actuality,” that actuality seems to be L.A. Amidst the town’s most unreal Westside precincts (particularly Venice), Barbie learns of the unattainable expectations her instance locations on girls.
Barbie’s would-be boyfriend Ken, who’s confined to hanging across the seaside in Barbieland, discovers the chances of patriarchy after he falls in love with the phallic glass workplace towers of Century Metropolis. And when Ken takes these supposed Southern California values again to Barbieland, that utopia of feminism (with a set design that resembles Palm Springs) collapses.
Quickly, the varied Ken dolls have imposed a bizarro dictatorship of males, who subjugate the varied Barbies, who’d beforehand served as president and managed the Supreme Court docket.
It is likely to be mistaken to suppose too arduous a couple of film as addled and antic as Barbie, however the movie does replicate the Hollywood work realities of the ladies who made the film. Gerwig, star- producer Margot Robbie, and their colleagues have needed to navigate an leisure trade dominated by dim-witted Kens. (The remainder of L.A., thank goodness, is a little more egalitarian, as Mayor Karen Bass and the all-female Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors can let you know.)
Each movies, nevertheless, really feel greater than a bit of soulless. Barbie, for all its righteous feminism, is a company car for promoting dolls. It misses alternatives to make gentle of the cynicism of this American second, when companies attempt to discuss like social actions, and social actions usually behave like companies. The anxieties of Barbie are firmly upper-middle-class and better; not one of the girls or males of the movie fear about what worries most Angelenos — scratching out a dwelling in a too-expensive place.
Oppenheimer is much more callous. It’s a movie about nuclear weapons that doesn’t present their victims. We by no means see the human horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which is why the movie can’t get screened in Japan), or the harm individuals endured due to their proximity to the testing of such weapons, from the South Pacific to Central Asia.
This distance from real-life human issues is what makes each movies so unsettling — and so convincing as apocalyptic paperwork.
Collectively, they provide a two-part situation for the tip of humanity. First, we develop divided and remoted from one another due to the unattainable existence and cultural expectations that Southern California creates and promotes. Second, we kill ourselves with the applied sciences masterminded by Northern California.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Sq..