Just saw the Barbie movie with the ladies.
What a fantastic little film that ended with a complete collapse. Never seen anything like it really.
It was absolutely brilliant satire–and much deeper than most people realize– right up until the tragic last 10 minutes.
And ultimately Barbie was a tragedy. For the entire human race.
A tragedy of the greatest proportion.
I will explain.
But first let’s strip back the superficial takes and expose them.
No this movie is not about gender issues. It is not about patriarchy or the reverse. It is not man hating or woman hating. It is nothing of the sort. I won’t spend another moment discussing these silly superficial ideas.
The move is much more than any of these things–even if it ultimately fails to live up to its own promise–and it deserves a better discussion. And I’m going to provide it.
Let’s start with the positive.
As a true romantic, I loved the tale of unrequited love. I loved the idea of Ken’s entire PURPOSE to be that of Barbie’s mate. When we are introduced to him he literally lives for Barbie’s attention and affection.
Of course, Barbie does not see him. She ignores him, rebuffs him and takes him for granted.
And that, of course, is the plot point that moves the movie forward and leads to the undoing of the perfect world Barbie inhabits.
And the Barbieland was perfect.
Every day in Barbieland was the best day. Just like yesterday. And just like tomorrow. (Just like working at Troutman Amin, LLP. :))
And that was precisely because everyone living in Barbieland was a paradigm. Unidimensional. Existing solely for a single purpose. And existing as the perfect articulation of that purpose. And all was in harmony.
It was perfect. And that was precisely the idea.
Because every Barbie–and every piece of Barbieland–was the most perfect articulation of itself. It was authentic. It had integrity. And every inhabitant was content in their role. The trash ladies. The mermaids. And even the looked over Kens. And that is precisely what made it perfect.
All except for one little tiny flaw.
Only a single piece of impurity in the entire Barbieland existed- the stereotypical Ken’s human desire to be acknowledged by stereotypical Barbie, which was a bit of a cheat. If he were truly the paradigm of unrequited love (he was supposed to be) the idea of needing more would never have occurred to him–even under the influence of the “real world” of Century City. (Yes, this passes for irony in the film.)
Regardless, a thoughtful viewer is left debating whether the ultimate fatal flaw unravelling the perfect world of Barbieland is Ken’s (non-paradigm) desire for attention or Barbie (perfectly paradigm) inability to love and appreciate him.
As a true romantic, of course, I faulted Barbie. But as an intellectual purist, the fault lies with Ken.
How much fun is this blog so far?
It gets funner.
I realized about halfway through the movie that the weird awkward resentment I started to feel toward Barbie for her mistreatment of the seemingly pure-hearted Ken was a designed fourth dimensional special-effect of the movie, calibrated to give me a small taste of the real-world (overly emphasized but real enough paradigm) of women feeling overlooked by their male counterparts. And that was was a fun little realization that made me appreciate the movie a great deal.
And so the movie meandered for a while and I was perfectly content. And the ladies were quite committed to the experience as well.
Again though, through my little true romantic lens, literally everything that took place from the moment they left Barbieland until the last 10 minutes of the movie, was all about love. The things people do for love. Ken’s battle to prove his worth to Barbie–which, after all, was his purpose. It was all quite lovely. And I was quite convinced that love would prevail in the end. As it damn well should.
And then… the last 10 minutes hit.
And we were stripped of everything.
All of the paradigms were destroyed.
Love didn’t conquer all. It failed entirely.
Ken could no longer live as a paradigm. Instead, he was forced discover he was himself–whatever that means– and that he now supposedly had some unspecified purpose apart from Barbie and his love of her. And somehow that was supposed to be good enough.
Which is delightfully ironic, because–of course–it wasn’t remotely good enough. And so while the fictional Ken apparently discovers he is “Kenough”, the viewer is stripped of any value or worth in the character or his arc, which ends with him simply floundering into a very literal irrelevance, instead of the satirical irrelevance he had enjoyed throughout the film.
And Barbie– who also ends her arc a very flawed and damaged creature– does not redeem herself by paying off Ken’s love. Even when Ken meaningfully informs her he always thought the home would be “our house” she is cold and indifferent to any form of advancement in their relationship. Indeed, she specifically rejects the idea “I am not in love with Ken” as she stiffly states in a rebuff to the paradigm of romance.
And here, is where the tragedy really begins to set in.
Ken, never a hero, is not redeemed.
Barbie, seemingly the protagonist, deliberately rebuffs the opportunity for redemption–or even gratitude or appreciation– for all of Ken’s dedicated efforts.
Fine. But then…
She is left to the worst fate of all.
Destroyer of worlds.
In a cheap and transparent effort to redeem the audience our beloved Barbie–once the paradigm of all that is good and pure and beautiful– renounces all perfection to be…
Wait for it.
After tasting the imperfection and trite impure insipid meaninglessness of the “real world” given to us by the movie–where, as Ruth tells it, humans do nothing more than struggle and die– Barbie chooses to be human rather than to allow Barbieland to live on as the perfect world it once was.
Its like the Neverending Story, only the nothing wins and Atreu becomes a human being and sacrafices all of Neverland to the nothing.
Its.. absurd. Abysmal. A cop out.
The ultimate “Beach off” of the audience.
I get it. We are all supposed to feel like “enough” because the fictional doll would rather be us than live on in her perfect world.
Thanks. We needed that.
And maybe we did, because the movie depicts the real world–our world–as a terrible place that no one would willfully choose to inhabit. So perhaps we are to feel redeemed that Barbie would choose our world over the perfect paradise of her own.
But… why? And at what cost?
Its important to realize that both versions of Barbieland were superior to what Barbie leaves viewers with in the end.
The original Barbieland–as already expressed–was perfect. But so was Kendom. In the same manner as the original Barbieland, all inhabitants of Kendom served their purpose and were perfectly content. Even the previous President expressed happiness in the new role she was fulfilling. In fact, it would have made perfect sense of stereotypical Barbie–having returned from the horrors of the real world after having learned that the little girls in the real world don’t actually admire them after all–would simply have leaned into the new world and returned to her important place within the new paradigm alongside stereotypical Ken.
Instead, the villain of the story–America Ferrera’s Gloria– not content with already having destroyed the original Barbieland with her existential dilemma, now sets off to destroy the new version of Barbieland by brainwashing Kendom’s inhabitants with “real world” viewpoints, rather than just let folks be happy in their new paradigm.
And that, of course, is the actual lesson in all of this.
Barbieland was perfect, twice. Because its inhabitants were happy. Twice. It didn’t need to be saved from Patriarchy, or the inverse… It needed to be saved from being told it was broken.
And Barbie, the character, had that opportunity in the end.
That should have been her arc. Barbie should have been the antidote to the pains and trials and tribulations of the real world. That is the role of fantasy. The role of make believe. The role of a doll…
to provide a safe space from the darkness of the real world.
That is literally Barbie’s purpose.
And she could have fulfilled it in the end of the movie.
She could have returned to Barbieland and restored it to its original glory, saving all of its inhabitants from the existential dread and discontentment Gloria had unleashed. And little girls in the real world could have gone back to having a glamorous, beautiful, hero to look up to.
But… she didn’t.
She just flat walks away from her responsibilities to literally everyone else and makes the choice she wants to make (and a bad one, at that.)
What in the actual hell movie? Why would you do that to Barbie?
By her final singular choice, Barbie dooms Barbieland to churn away as a mirror of the real world’s tragic state. And so the audience is left with nothing. No fantasy world. No hero. No redemption. Nothing to root for. Nothing fashionable or pristine.
Just a dingy health clinic and, of all things, a vaginal screening.
Worth a giggle, I suppose.
But all of this leaves a viewer with a deep sense of palpable unease. Mostly because it makes no sense.
The truth is the writers had no plan for Barbie as a character. They had every opportunity to make her the heroin that little girls were counting on her being. That little girls need. And they failed completely.
Having took Barbie to the real world and back. Having used her. Debased her. Abused her. They had no plan for her. None. Whatsoever.
So they opted for a cheap stunt.
And in the end, it is the audience–the real real world–that loses. We lose first, a cohesive ending that actually makes any sort of sense. But more fundamentally, we lose a perfect fantasy world. We’re told–essentially and ironically–that we need to grow up and live in the awful real world, just like Barbie has chosen to do.
The idea Barbieland and all of its paradigms and perfections was… heaven. It was the fantasy world that kids create for themselves before they are poisoned by the real world. And we watch that fantasy world get poisoned right before our eyes and no one lifts a finger to save it.
And in the end Barbie just abdicates responsibility and walks away, a vector of destruction that robs us all (but especially little girls) of hope, fantasy, and–ultimately–purpose.
One less hero that little girls in the real real world have to look up to.
Delicious, delicious tragedy.
Probably the darkest movie I have ever seen.
But it made a bunch of money so…
The Czar writing this blog.