Director: Greta Gerwig
Date Created: 2023-07-21 00:00
From pictures of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in neon skate gear to intriguingly cryptic trailers to shortening the nationwide supply of pink, the Barbie movie has been 2023’s hottest topic in pop culture.
With its star-studded cast, popstar-saturated soundtrack, and bright beachy pastels, Barbie is one of the top candidates for the title of “Movie of the Summer.”
From the onset of the film, you get exactly what you expect given the expectations that have been built: immaculate aesthetics, appropriately campy humor, and an upbeat fantastical atmosphere.
It’s hard to watch the opening scenes of the Barbie movie without a smile on your face.
But as the scenes progress, the smile begins to fade as confusion takes over.
While Barbie nails the surface-level aspects of storytelling, it reveals a shallow base when attempting to speak on deeper issues.
The Barbie movie real life themes such as feminism, gender roles, and humanity are approached in ways that leave you with no innately meaningful sense of closure. Let’s address that.
How the Barbie Movie Real Life Themes Lose Focus
When Barbie's perfect world begins to show cracks, she must venture into the real world unexpectedly accompanied by Ken to find her owner and restore herself and her world to it's former perfection.
**Heads Up! There WILL be spoilers in this review. **
Real Life Theme #1: Feminism
The biggest real life theme that the Barbie movie addresses is feminism, the movement that fights for equal rights for women in a patriarchal society.
In Barbieland, there is no need for feminism because smart, successful Barbie women run the world. The men of this world, the Kens, are simply accessories to the Barbie lifestyle.
Technically, the men are the ones who don’t have equal rights or opportunities in Barbieland. However, the Kens are also too air-headed to be upset about their lack of equality. They simply want the attention and affection of Barbie.
The real world isn’t so simple. Especially in modern-day society, gender inequality is often a more subtle issue.
Women can hold a variety of jobs, vote, and drink from the same water fountains as men. The issues that restrict women from positions of power are more social rather than legal.
The film portrays how when Barbie enters the real world, she is regarded differently in society because of her appearance as a woman.
The movie addresses this social discomfort with womanhood explicitly with a very lackluster monologue from Gloria (played by America Ferrera), AKA the real-world human, when she lists all the ways that it’s impossible to be a woman in the real world.
As a real-world woman myself, these lists of complaints did not resonate with me at all. It felt more like a list of social assumptions and limiting thought patterns.
On top of that, the empowering scenes of women taking the reigns in society that set the stage for the movie did not leave any emotional space for the audience to feel the weight of Gloria’s speech.
We don’t really see women in oppressive roles very much in this movie so the sudden righteous indignation has no strong or recent evidence.
But apparently, this speech is SO powerful to the other Barbies that it breaks them out of a trance of being submissive to the Kens.
This is not to say that there are not still very real and painful ways in which women’s rights are still attacked in society, but this film did not set up a strong foundation for the audience to truly feel the complex oppression of women before being impacted by a monologue that puts words to those messy emotions.
The overall message seems like it has the intention to be deep and meaningful but the dialogue just overstates issues that weren’t even present in the film.
Real Life Theme #2: Gender Roles
In Barbieland, the gender roles are clear. Barbies can be any and everything and Kens can beach and admire the Barbies, yearning for their attention and approval.
When Ken follows Barbie into the real world, he’s immediately fascinated by the shift in gender roles.
People regard him, respect him, and don’t limit his identity to who he is in relation to Barbie.
Ken learns all about the patriarchy (and horses) and brings his newfound knowledge back to Barbieland equipped to change the gendered power dynamics. And despite his seemingly low IQ, he somehow manages to convince a whole community of genius Barbies to submit to the patriarchy.
He makes it so that the women tend to the men, opening their beer and massaging their feet, more than the Kens did for the Barbies when the power roles were reversed.
When Barbieland was still female-driven, the men did nothing but beach and admire.
When the Barbies snap out of their patriarchal hypnosis through the power of empty words, they use their feminine wiles to cause disruption among the Kens. They pretend to love them and then spark jealousy among them inciting an intense dance battle where several are wounded in the process.
Once the Barbies reclaim their land, the Kens are still left questioning their place in this Barbie world.
But that’s ok because Barbie has a solution that works for everyone:
Just say, “Ken is me.”
Yup, just say “Ken is me” and then Kens will feel like they are Kenough.
Barbie has no romantic interest in Ken although Ken’s whole life revolves around Barbie. Even his pursuit of the patriarchy was out of anger that he wasn’t being seen and loved by Barbie.
But with another baseless monologue, Ken somehow finds contentment in just being Ken.
The question again is, what are we trying to say here? What does this mean?
This lazy approach to resolving a big issue is incredibly unsatisfying and leaves it without much closure.
So now women should rule the world and men should just be okay with the scraps they’re given? Now, we just have a different kind of inequality.
Or is a female-skewed Barbie world an escape from the male-skewed real world?
And if so, why should the Kens just be okay with being second-rate citizens while for the Barbies complacency with sub-ordinance is unacceptable?
Real Life Theme #3: Being Human
Although Barbie reclaims Barbieland, she’s still not satisfied. The existential crisis is still sticking with her so much so that she’s not even wearing pink anymore *gasp*.
Now that she’s tasted the complexity of real human life, she doesn’t want to stay in her “perfect” Barbie world.
Barbie decides that she wants to be human. She says:
“I want to be a part of the people who make meaning, not the thing that’s made.”
Ok. Fair enough. Although, what meaning are you trying to make? We don’t learn much about Barbie’s aspirations as she’s just Stereotypical Barbie with no job to identify her.
She’s fascinated by the humanity of tears, sadness, imperfection, and hurt.
She has a “deep” conversation with her Barbie maker about what it means to be human and the risk she would take knowing that humans have to die.
Somehow Barbie is unfazed by the consequences as a montage of happy life moments floats across the screen.
As a human, I was like — Barbie, those pictures are lying to you. There is a lot of pain in humanity sweetheart. I would choose your dream house and an empty mind in a heartbeat.
But no, influenced by a generic slideshow of people living, laughing, and loving, Barbie is now in the real world doing mundane real-world things like seeing a gynecologist (which is a hilarious way to end the movie btw).
But how about the tension you’re going to create in the new household you’re just dropping into?
How about your lack of family history?
How about your future? You don’t have any degrees to get a job.
By becoming a real human, Barbie is not ridding herself of existential crises, she’s just opening up herself to more questions and crises than she could ever even account for.
So the weight of that choice, the choice to be human, felt undermined, and not a satisfying conclusion to Barbie’s journey.
Why would she choose to live in a world where the power is male-skewed? Where she’s catcalled and excluded? Where she has ugly days and gets cellulite? Where people are mean and dismissive of your friendliness? Maybe it’s what she’s trying to change.
And if it is, sis has got a long road ahead of her and I don’t think she knows it…
No one can take away from the amazing top-tier aesthetics of the Barbie movie, but when it comes to the depth and meaning within the themes the film attempts to tackle, the messaging falls awfully flat.
The bright colors and dance numbers don’t hide the lack of sense within the film’s storyline and deeper themes.
It upholds feminist ideology and concepts without questioning them, leaving a movie that fails to evaluate sometimes even harmful aspects of the classic feminist story.
Like, why do all the men have to be idiots? And why is it okay for men to be subservient to women but not vice versa? How do we live in a balanced society where both men and women are respected and appreciated and allowed to maximize their lives?
Sometimes you can overcorrect a problem to the point where you just create new problems.
At the end of the day, no one wants to be put into a box about who they can or cannot be. Everyone wants to be respected for who they are, both men and women.
But instead of communicating this message, the film stuck with a generic feminist speech that didn’t really bring anything new or meaningful to the table. Rather placed women in this victim role when in this Barbie world, they really weren’t.
It’s not about men holding the power or women holding the power, it’s about all people feeling as though their gender doesn’t hold them back from being all that they dream to be.
That’s where I thought this movie was going…
But you can’t expect something real from a movie made of plastic.
What did you think of the Barbie movie real life themes? Let me know in the comments below!
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Peace, love, and lots of popcorn,