“Journey is an ideal metaphor for the spiritual life. It encourages us to see our experiences as a movement toward wholeness, meaning, and purpose. Every step counts because it gets us further along the path.
“All of the larger-than-life questions about our presence here on earth and what gifts we have to offer are spiritual questions. To seek answers to these questions is to seek a sacred path.”
— Lauren Artress in The Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron
Barbie is a playful, sassy, funny, and robust comedy filled with complicated characters, rousing songs, creative and very colorful costumes and sets, philosophical jaunts, and rowdy satirical commentaries on feminism, patriarchy, and pop culture. The film is directed by Greta Gerwig who cowrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach.
Their inspiration is the classic doll created by American businesswoman Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman in the movie), manufactured by the toy company Mattel (an executive team led by Will Ferrell in the film). As suggested in the prologue, Barbie’s striking body is entrancing to little girls who give up their baby dolls for a fashion doll with lots of clothes and accessories and a boyfriend named Ken.
Margot Robbie stars as Stereotypical Barbie, a blonde, curvy, blue-eyed beauty who has a million-dollar smile and believes that every day is the best day ever. She lives in a gorgeous Dreamhouse in the glamorous community of Barbieland with many other Barbies – Doctor Barbie, President Barbie, Teacher Barbie, Physicist Barbie, Writer Barbie, Lawyer Barbie, even Weird Barbie (who was damaged when played with too harshly by a child). Waiting for her at the Beach is Ken (Ryan Gosling) who only has a good day when Barbie looks at him. Other Kens also play second-fiddle to various Barbies.
Stereotypical Barbie’s day is upset when she starts having strange sensations. She talks about death; is she turning into “Irrepressible-Thoughts-of-Death Barbie”? She discovers that her thighs are not as smooth as they used to be; is she becoming “Cellulite-All-Over-the-Body Barbie”? What’s more; she has flat feet that don’t fit in her high heels.
She learns that these deviations are coming from whoever is her partner in the Real World. So Barbie leaves her home and sets out for this strange place where she confronts difficulties and dangers before returning home with new understandings of herself.
Ken tags along on this quest and discovers to his surprise and delight that in the Real World, men are in charge. They have horses and rule as a patriarchy. He decides to bring what he’s learned back to Barbieland. Now Barbie and all her sister Barbies face even more challenges as all the Kens take over and misogyny reigns.
At the center of the film are two scenes which serve as portals to the imaginative riches of the screenplay. In the first, searching for her connection in the Real World, Barbie meets a group of young women, including Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt). She criticizes Barbie as “a tool of sexualized capitalism that has set the feminist movement back years.” She also states “women hate women. And men hate women. It’s the only thing we agree on.” This is a surprise to Barbie since she thought that she and her sisters, by modeling all kinds of occupations, were actually telling girls they could be whoever they wanted to be. Other Barbies were under the same impression.
In another scene, Barbie discovers that Sasha’s mother Gloria (America Ferrera) is the one behind her thoughts of death and cellulite. In a monologue (see Teaching Scene), Gloria describes the paradoxes, mysteries, and shadows of trying to truly be alive as a woman in today’s society. Barbie’s reaction (most likely shared by at least half the audience) is that “the real world isn’t what I thought it was.”
Was her quest worth it? Weird Barbie sums up her choices: “You have to go to the Real World. You can go back to your regular life and forget any of this ever happened. Or you can know the truth about the universe.” That’s good to keep in mind when you leave the theater after watching this summer blockbuster.