Let’s Never Stop Questioning What 'Barbie' Is Really About

Replace: Now that Barbie is in theaters, we are able to lastly ensure of what the movie’s about: Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie ventures into the “real world” to be taught which hapless human has been inflicting her to malfunction. Alongside the best way, she learns who made her, the ethical implications of loss of life and selection, the tangled internet of patriarchy and feminism, the entice of making an attempt to be excellent, and the significance of originality in an onslaught of IP. The film’s additionally about Matchbox Twenty, and horses, and the way a bunch of Allans escaped Barbie World to kind NSYNC.

Okay, so, wait…do we all know what Barbie’s about? Perhaps we must always hold debating.

The textual content under is from the unique article, revealed July 11, forward of Barbie’s launch:

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For months, the Barbie film’s huge unknown has been one among its biggest belongings. What little we understood amounted to a pair of highlighter-yellow rollerblades, dangled aloft by the spray-tanned arms of a bleached-blond Ryan Gosling: nostalgic, symbolic, a triumph of promoting honed alongside a (plastic) razor’s edge. Each new set photograph, character poster, and teaser trailer that collected over the months main as much as Barbie’s July 21 launch has been acquired and dissected with the self-serious thrill of an 8-year-old planning their themed party. Which, to be clear, is strictly appropriately. Questioning Barbie, like assembling an identification as a toddler, is a mandatory pursuit. That is what films like Barbie—and icons just like the doll herself—are made for: each the indulgent pleasure and the outrageous nuance of mythologizing.

The secrets and techniques of director Greta Gerwig’s long-anticipated movie are, in actual fact, beginning to dissolve: The Los Angeles premiere prompted a spherical of spoiler-free first reactions (largely optimistic), and the official critic overview embargo is reportedly up quickly. However even with the movie lastly accumulating eyeballs, there’s nonetheless a collective sense of protectiveness over the Barbie brouhaha. We don’t need the mania to interrupt, not but. There are nonetheless ample dopamine deposits to be found in deliberating what, exactly, Barbie has to say. After a promotional music video dropped yesterday that includes Gosling’s Ken serenading his second-rate standing, one explicit TikTok remark finest summarized this sense: “Every time I see a trailer for this movie I am more confused but I also want to see it more.”

Even Barbie star Issa Rae has loved the opacity. As she shared in a December 2022 Hollywood Reporter story, she was perplexed when Gerwig first introduced the story to her. “I’ll be 100 percent honest, when she was talking, like, it was entertaining, but I didn’t get it.” she stated. “I was like, ‘I don’t know what the fuck she was talking about, but whatever it is, I’m excited she’s behind it.’ And then reading it was, like, ‘Oh my God, I love her even more.’”

So, then, what’s Barbie about? My hope is that really watching the plot play out will solely heighten the talk. The movie’s IMDb logline encourages that risk: “Barbie suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence.” If Barbie’s questioning herself, why would we not need to do the identical?

So far, we’ve had such fascinating theories on the target of her eponymous movie:

1) It’s about having an existential disaster (and likewise, loss of life).

Right here’s what we all know for positive: In Barbie, our protagonist finds herself dropping her grip over her inherent Barbie-ness. “Do you guys ever think about dying?” she asks throughout one among her traditional blowout events, incomes shocked, judgment silence in response. Dolls don’t die! Issues solely worsen from there: Out of the blue, her faux bathe is freezing; she falls, relatively than floats, from her rooftop into her convertible; her toes droop from their iconic arch. To treatment this imperfection, she’s instructed to discover the “real world,” so she will know “the truth about the universe.”

The issue with the “truth about the universe” is that it’s a sizzling mess, and folks die. Barbie just isn’t a multitude, nor does she ever die. She doesn’t even age. This supposedly irreconcilable reality appears to be Gerwig’s entry level to dissecting the artifice we’ve constructed round Barbie as an emblem of idealized femininity. What about perfectionism stays so engaging, even after we know and acknowledge its fruitlessness? And what in regards to the changelessness of Barbie makes her look like the proper girl?

margot robbie crying as barbie

Warner Bros.

2) It’s about Ken changing into a villain. Or one thing.

The logline hooked up to the complete Barbie trailer lays out an intriguing path for Ken, Barbie’s everlasting boyfriend: “To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken.”

One TikTok concept posited that Ken didn’t belong in Barbie Land as a result of he’s “an imposter,” owing to the sudden casting of Gosling within the position. The “Just Ken” music video additional establishes that Ken can’t extricate himself from Barbie, although she finds him solely ancillary. If Barbie had been to cozy as much as Don’t Fear Darling, the movie would possibly depict Ken rising resentful over his lesser billing beside a extra profitable feminine associate. He would possibly even uncover the actual world is a relatively agreeable place for cis, white, supposedly heterosexual males like himself. (After all, we shouldn’t assume Ken’s sexuality isn’t fluid. Or that he has a sexuality! He’s a doll!) May he then need to keep?

Even when Barbie doesn’t lay out its “men are problematic” bent fairly so actually, it’s already clear Gosling’s efficiency is without doubt one of the better of the movie. If that’s the case, there’s one hell of a debate available over why Ken’s character arc is so important to our understanding of Barbie herself.

3) It’s in regards to the inescapable clutch of firms.

We will’t speak about Barbie with out speaking in regards to the advertising and marketing of Barbie. It’s all over the place: on Krispy Kreme donuts and Ruggable rugs and OPI nail polish and GAP T-shirts and toothbrushes and baggage and pool floats and ice cream and frozen yogurt and make-up and automobiles and blankets and hairbrushes and heels. Her Dreamhouse is on Airbnb. Each publicist pushing sun shades or intercourse toys has retooled their technique round “Barbiecore” for the summer season. I’ve by no means worn a lot pink in my life.

The issue with all this consumerism is jarringly apparent, even (and maybe particularly) when it’s an excessive amount of enjoyable. And with fervor comes backlash, as witnessed in critiques that Barbie is little greater than a flashy business for toy model Mattel. These critiques, by the best way, are appropriate. On the similar time, the Mattel CEO is an precise character in Barbie (performed by Will Ferrell), and all indicators level to him as a major antagonist. Therein lies the rub: Barbie is a model, and is subsequently about branding, and is then a critique of branding, in the identical breath because it additional establishes that branding. You see? We may hold speaking about this! Eternally!

margot robbie winking as barbie in the barbie movie

Warner Bros. YouTube

4) It’s about feminism.

Nicely, yeah. Duh.

5) It’s in regards to the swan tune of girlhood.

[Young girls] are “funny and brash and confident, and then they just—stop,” Gerwig informed Vogue in Could. “How is this journey the same thing that a teenage girl feels? All of a sudden, she thinks, Oh, I’m not good enough.” It’s clear {that a} massive chunk of Barbie’s purpose is to discover why ladies abandon not solely their Barbie dolls, however among the optimistic beliefs related to them.

“We haven’t played with Barbies since we were, like, five years old,” a gaggle of teenagers inform Margot Robbie’s Barbie within the movie trailer. Her face falls. If ladies don’t want Barbie, what does she exist for? And who (or what) do they flip to as a substitute? What occurs to a woman to make her abandon what was beforehand such a supply of enrichment? What does it imply to age, when Barbie herself can not?

6) It’s about … Barbie.

Barbie is a plastic paradox. She is a slender imaginative and prescient of womanhood, and he or she can be an everywoman. She has lots of of jobs and has by no means labored a day in her life. (She can be, importantly, not alive.) She is greater than 60 years outdated and eternally, vaguely 20-something. (Previous stories point out Mattel claims she’s 19.) She is attractive however sexless. She’s a toddler’s plaything, with affect felt broadly on adults.

“If you love Barbie, this movie is for you,” reads the copy within the Barbie trailer. “If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.” There is no such thing as a clearer case for why the Barbie discourse ought to proceed long gone the movie’s ecstatic launch. She is—because the memes tout—all the pieces! Her film is all the above! We’d like not agree on each one among Barbie’s exact intentions; we want solely acknowledge why there’s a lot extra to dissect than an limitless onslaught of pink.

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Tradition Author

Lauren Puckett-Pope is a workers tradition author at ELLE, the place she primarily covers movie, tv and books. She was beforehand an affiliate editor at ELLE.

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