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He is literally me

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JULY 28, 2023

Movies, just like flying, used to be a formal occasion. People would dress formally to watch movies, which slowly went away as sweatpants and reclining chairs took over the cinemas.

Yet, last weekend was different. Moviegoers were dressing up — although somewhat ironically — for the premieres of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie.”

I put on a suit for Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” which I watched on Friday. On Sunday afternoon, I wore a pink Ken-esque outfit for Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” I made sure to let Instagram know about my sartorial cinephile shenanigans.

Participating in the culture is fun, and it gives us an excuse to leave the house during summer. These two movies have had a noticeable cultural impact, with high box office expectations and countless articles preemptively written about them.

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” are seemingly the opposite of each other. One movie is all bright colors, dolls and fun. The other movie is black and white, historic and serious. The release of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” was an obvious instance of counterprogramming.

Counterprogramming is a strategy in marketing to concurrently release products that have little to no overlapping audience, thereby maximizing profits. The idea is that consumers won’t have to choose which of the products to purchase if the number of consumers who want both is very small.

Yet there was a lot of crossover appeal.

So much so that some people watched movies back-to-back, a cultural phenomenon has been dubbed “Barbenheimer” by the media. There is even some debate as to what the right order to watch them is.

I did not have the bandwidth to watch them on the same day, but I went in with an open mind. My (very hot) takes are the following:

“Oppenheimer” is unique, as it explores the promethean nature of the atomic bomb. However, I felt as if it was messy and repetitive at times as it tried to blend in history and the creative liberties used to dramatize the interpersonal troubles of eccentric academics. Among Christopher Nolan movies, I’d rank it in the upper half of his filmography. It’s somewhere alongside “Inception,” behind “Dunkirk” and “Interstellar.”

“Barbie” executes nostalgia very well. Viewers are flooded with memories of the Barbies and outfits they — or their sisters and cousins — owned as children. The “weird Barbie” character was genially relatable. The set is creative, and the musical bits are fun. Yet, I think “Barbie” has an overreliance on gimmicky childlike acting and agreeable social commentary.

Both movies shattered box office expectations, but let’s not forget that movies simply do better in the summer because we’re all bored. For both movies my friends expressed a consensus along the lines of “I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t watch it again”.

We will see if either movie survives the test of time. However, I’ll let our arts department sort this out.

The current event I’d like to address here is the Literally Me phenomenon, also known as Literally Me Syndrome.

Literally Me Syndrome is defined by Urban Dictionary as  “a character in which filmbros identify, some examples of literally me characters are: Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Ryan Gosling in Drive, Tyler Durden in Fight Club.”

Literally Me Syndrome entered the internet lexicon a few years ago, and if you’re a geeky netizen like me, then you have watched as those niche memes slowly entered mainstream Instagram pages and social media stories.

Literally Me characters aren’t anything revolutionary. Films and characters are supposed to be relatable. But, Literally Me characters deal with a subgenre of psychologically troubled, often lonely, characters that must deal with harsh and challenging circumstances by putting up a façade to hide their true selves.

Oftentimes Literally Me characters are synonymous with “Sigma Males,” Though, this cultural phenomenon is gender neutral, like Mia Goth in “Pearl.”

And this is what these movies have in common. Both movies have the ‘literally me’ effect.

In fact, the casts of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” include actors that have already been idolized for some of their Literally Me performances, such as Cillian Murphy in “Peaky Blinders” or Ryan Gosling in “Drive.”

The Barbenheimer movies deal with self and the world. Dr. Oppenheimer tries to reconcile the fact that he revolutionized weaponry and thus the world, despite his lifelong pacifist beliefs. Barbie struggles with what it means to be perfectly happy, empowerment and the cognitive dissonance required to live in the patriarchy.

The movies are about personal struggles. Struggles that no one else can seemingly relate to, but that others face. It’s about those facades that we put up, and how others relate to them.

The endings differed. “Oppenheimer” finished ambiguously. “Barbie” had a clearer resolution. Yet, I have already seen scenes of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on social media, with comments like “(s)he’s just like me fr”.

Loneliness and stress are on the rise in our post-COVID, Zoom-heavy society. Literally Me Syndrome offers a bit of a release. It’s the assurance that we’re not alone in our struggles. An assurance that manifests itself in a goofy little tradition: dressing up for the movies.

Rafael Arbex-Murut writes the Thursday column about current events. Contact the opinion desk at[email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

JULY 28, 2023