Reading, Watching 08.20
Oliver Anthony, Barbie, Oppenheimer
Three of the biggest cultural phenomena in America, if not the world, right now: The films Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan and Barbie by Greta Gerwig, and the surprise viral country hit “Rich Men North of Richmond” are all, in different ways, stuck and oscillate between the sublime and the ridiculous. All of them seem to represent a certain loss of understanding of artistic conventions and rules that I think speaks to a broader situation of normlessness and drift that I previously labeled “politics of national despair.” In fact, I think they represent three different contemporary aspects of the politics of national despair.
Let’s start with Oppenheimer. First off, I liked this film a lot when I first saw it. It’s about a completely fascinating subject, was well-made, had some terrific performance, and was very dramatic and exciting. What else do you want from a movie? It contained both a kind of scientific-procedural thriller and a political thriller, firmly adult genres of film that don’t really pander to family friendliness or the contemporary need to make things total inoffensive pap. You wouldn’t know it to look at the ads, which tried to make it look like a Marvel Movie for some reason, but felt like a moment of old Hollywood revived. It was also very serious. It’s need to be taken seriously, to impress upon the audience the importance and weightiness of the subject matter, undoubtedly led to its moments of cringe and bathos: the cheesy lines, the oppressive score, the introduction of dream-like and hallucinatory sequences. Christopher Nolan is always toying with the edge of schlock and Oppenheimer goes over the edge. It was a little like if A Beautiful Mind was quite a bit smarter and about someone and something actually important and interesting. If one can take oneself less seriously, one can actually enjoy its epic pretensions as being quite fun and almost campy.