Barbenheimer weekend made me love church more
Church provides a community that doesn’t disappear when the lights come up, but one that is set to walk with you through life’s joys and hardships.
11 AUGUST 2023 · 11:30 CET
When I first moved to the town I currently live in, the church I attend would meet in Screen 4 of the local Odeon.
Given that film is the main love in my life other than Jesus, many said how fitting it was for me to end up in a church that met in a cinema.
However, while we no longer meet there, I have come to see it as a place that is its own sort of spiritual home.
Cinema can very easily function as a secular church, and watching a great film can feel like a religious experience.
No clearer has this correlation been demonstrated than on the weekend Barbenheimer hit cinemas.
For those who somehow missed the cultural phenomenon, “Barbenheimer” refers to the cinematic release date of both Barbie (dir. by Greta Gerwig) and Oppenheimer (dir. by Christopher Nolan).
Given the stark contrast in the content and tones of these two films, many online found the simultaneous release to be ironic, with online jokes emerging.
What initially started as a 'choose you side' situation, evolved into an encouragement to see both films as a double bill, subsequently leading to the most successful weekend in United Kingdom Box Office history, with both films overperforming.
Arriving at the cinema on opening night to watch Barbie, the atmosphere was truly electric. Everyone, including myself, was dressed in pink, with the staff donning various themed outfits.
What initially started as a ‘choose your side’ situation, evolved into an encouragement to see both films as a double billA pink carpet was laid out and bunting was hung up around the cinema foyer. There was a constant buzz of chatter and movement as people bought their snacks and prepared to enter the movie.
It was reminiscent of the gaggle of people you find around the coffee station at church before and after the service.
However, It’s not the only way in which a trip to church and a trip to the cinema compare.
Both involve a group of people coming together with a shared interest; both see an audience take in a message that is presented to all of them; in both cases, discussing that message with others afterwards leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of it
That being said, while a film like Barbie or Oppenheimer does enrich a viewer’s life and offers food for thought and a new perspective, it ultimately cannot provide a lasting satisfaction.
While it was an amazing experience to watch both films on opening weekend, and its monumental impact is unlikely to be replicated, there will always be new films coming out, many of which will be better than these two (as hard as it may seem).
Oppenheimer is a marvel of filmmaking, and its character study of an influential man who committed moral atrocities is a fascinating one.
While a film like Barbie or Oppenheimer does enrich a viewer’s life and offers food for thought and a new perspective, it ultimately cannot provide a lasting satisfactionIt opens up questions of the importance of technological advance in theory vs how that knowledge is subsequently used, it depicts a flawed man with nuance - never morally convicting a judgement on him, it shows the intimate effects of a horrific disaster on individuals who still manage to remove themselves from the true victims.
It is a film that presents big ideas that leave you unsettled and challenge you; but it doesn’t offer you one specific, neatly wrapped takeaway point that you can apply to your life.
While a vastly different film, Barbie also presents itself as a showcase of what is possible in filmmaking.
Like Oppenheimer, the film prides itself on its commitment to practical design and effects over CGI, and the world feels thoroughly established and lived.
Barbie also offers many expansive ideas: of what it means to be a woman, how patriarchy oppresses both men and women, how neglect can turn us to more extreme ideologies; what it looks like to have a fulfilling life and find meaning in the everyday.
However, the film’s climactic moment poses questions to the viewer and to Barbie herself, rather than answers.
There is something deeply profound in the question posed though: Barbie, by way of a gorgeous Billie Eilish song, asks the question, “What Was I Made For?”
In a strange way, this question presented to us in our secular church, is the one that Christians go to regular Church to answer. And we as Christians, do believe that we have an answer.
Like in Barbie, our creator reveals this answer to us through snippets of creation, but we also believe that this answer is revealed to us through Word and Spirit: the fundamental components of any church service
Cinema fulfils us for a few hours at a time, then sends us on our way to continue consuming more media, and hoping to let something move you.
In contrast, while church is still only a few hours a week, it seeks to send people on their way with a message that will actively change them in the day to day.
The sense of community I felt with the others in that opening night screening of Barbie was profound, but it was fleeting, given that I have no deeper connections with everyone in that room.
Church, on the other hand, provides a community that doesn’t disappear when the lights come up, but one that is set to walk with you through life’s joys and hardships. There is not only a common interest that unites us, but a common purpose.
The joy of partaking in Barbenheimer weekend will stay with me for a long time, as will the two films individually.
However, while I will forever feel a soft spot for the cinema, I know that it cannot nourish me in the same way as the spiritual food I receive at church each Sunday.
I know what I was made for, and I am so grateful that I can live out that purpose with a God-given family and home called Church.
Rehana Nurmahi is an entertainment journalist based in Guildford. She also runs the students and 20s ministry at her church. She loves all things pop culture, and is passionate about helping other Christians think through engaging with it well.
This article was first published on the PfE blog and re-published with permission.