–Directed by Greta Gerwig
–Written by Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach

What is this Barbie thing, anyway?

As I see it, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach have provided us with a movie built with three components: Barbie, Ken, and Mattel. Let’s take a look at these in reverse order.

Mattel

A movie needs a plot. This is where the executives at Mattel come in. They are the antagonist, the conflict against which Barbie, our plastic protagonist, must strive. Not a fan. If Mattel is supposed to represent the real world, the patriarchy of reality, as it were, then someone screwed up. This monster has no teeth. After five minutes of watching these castrated losers in their board room, I knew they could never provide opposition to anyone, let alone our moulded hero. My guess is they are a watered-down version of the original corporate formulation, neutered out of recognition by the real-life company itself, which was likely not amused. Because if anything is true, corporations in the real world have real teeth, and they take real bites.

Comedy? I guess…

Ken? Why?

A docile idiot, useless, pointless, so much a nobody he literally disappears at night because… who needs him? Some might take offence at this representation of his gender, but we’re in a special place in Barbieland. I’ll come back to this later.

Ken’s character arc might be even greater than Barbie’s. He goes on an inward journey as he travels to the real world and back, at first filling his meaningless existence with toxic masculinity, that superficial, overblown, unconvincing bravado that lacks any depth, strength, meaning, character, or contentment. This is what is happening to some unfortunate men in our own culture. It is only when Ken confronts his own insecurities, his status (or lack thereof), as an independent being – an insecurity which toxic masculinity is meant to hide – and not as an accessory, that he begins to come into his own. The movie leaves the matter open, because men are indeed facing a crisis of meaning, of masculinity, and who can say what will come out the other side?

Barbie

The figment of a million little girls’ imaginations. Here we see why Ken gets treated like some kind of accessory in Barbieland, because he is, quite literally, an accessory. In all those play-times, in all those minds of all those little girls, he’s a non-entity. Maleness won’t become interesting to them for a for a few years yet, so who has any use for boy dolls? Ken is a cardboard cutout for the photo-shoot, to be tossed in the back of the closet when he’s no longer useful. Ken does not start the movie representing men; rather, he starts out as an object of indifference for generations of girls dreaming about bigger things. Girl things. Barbie things.

And now to our extruded champion herself, that polymer chain leaning against her Dream Home like a string of synthetic organic orange pearls.

Better joking through chemistry aside, Barbie herself represents so much: little girls’ imaginations; a generation’s dreams of equality; the fear of a pending future of womanhood, and the impossibility of that womanhood to be realized.

For the adults in the room, Barbie packs a wallop. How could I possibly say it better than this?

Damn, that’s a monologue!

It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary. But somehow, we’re always doing it wrong. You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin, you have to say you want to be healthy. But also, you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money, because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behaviour, which is insane, but if you point that out you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much, or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be part of the sisterhood. But always stand out. And always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged so find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.

You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard, it’s too contradictory, and nobody gives you a medal or says ‘thank-you’. And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong but also, everything is your fault.

Gloria (America Ferrera)

Preach.

When You Remind Me of Ulysses

Chapter 18 of James Joyce’s masterpiece. I call it the “yes” chapter (not very original, agreed). Whatever you may think of it, Penelope presents an affirmation in the face of all the bullshit life smears on our faces. So, too, Barbie: affirmation; from that perfect world of a little girl’s imagination, into the pain and misery and disappointment that is coming. Because joy and love and touch, too.

Because joy and love and touch.

And vagina.