Dreams, Horses, Kens: a comment on the real world through a bubble gum pink prism


(Credit: IMDB)

One of the hottest movie releases of this summer is “Barbie,” directed by Greta Gerwig (who is perfect for the project, considering her previous critically acclaimed coming-of-age works, “Lady Bird” and “Little Women”). For people who haven’t seen the trailer, the story follows Barbie (Margot Robbie) as she embarks on a journey to the real world to find answers to bizarre occurrences happening to her and disturbing her perfect life in Barbieland. The film boasts a stellar cast, including Ryan Gosling as Ken, America Ferrera, Will Ferrell, Simu Liu, Michael Cera, Kate McKinnon, and more. Additionally, the movie features an amazing soundtrack with artists like Charlie XCX, Dua Lipa, Tame Impala, and Nicki Minaj.  

I went to the premiere of “Barbie,” and here is my review. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Going into the movies, I expected a fun and thrilling journey with my favorite doll in the real world. Little did I know that this adventure would delve deeper, exploring complex themes of misogyny, patriarchy, introspection, womanhood, and self-discovery.

Essentially, the story is about transitioning from girlhood to womanhood and later motherhood, focusing on the journey of girls finding their place in the world. This is a theme that Gerwig excels at portraying in her films, with a strong emphasis on female characters’ empowerment and self-discovery, and the challenges they face in society.

Barbie, or the stereotypical Barbie, aka Margot Robbie, is a pink doll living her easy, pink fantasy life. We notice that out of all the Barbies, she doesn’t have a job, simply reveling in her fun and carefree existence. This innocence and lack of worries can be relatable to our childhoods, when we were carefree and unburdened by the complexities of life. The moment when Barbie’s head fills with existential crisis, her body goes through changes like stretch marks, flat feet, bad breath, and everything is not as easy as it seems. This could be related to our teenage years, which is further signified by Barbie venturing into the real world and facing harsh realities: ridiculing, sexualization, and self-consciousness. As seen later in the movie, Barbie never regains that innocence, and the pink bedazzled heels are no longer an option. She goes through the journey of self-discovery, gaining autonomy and becoming a woman of her own, wearing pink Birkenstocks and heading to an appointment at the gynecologist. This transformation mirrors the experience of girls transitioning to womanhood as they explore the real world and leave behind the simplistic world of Barbieland.

Another prominent issue skillfully addressed by Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach is patriarchy. They do it in the most ridiculous yet most digestible way. Aside from the visible contrast between pre-Ken Barbieland and the real world, it can be easily observed in the patriarchy that Ken brings to Barbieland. It’s a concentration of all masculine wrongdoings and stereotypes that are prevalent in the real world. Barbies in oversexualized maid costumes, having the purpose of serving men, the ‘male’ meaning of “Godfather,” the mansplaining of cryptocurrency, and even the act of playing guitar AT someone all contribute to this portrayal of patriarchy. Although presented humorously as anecdotes from real life, these instances collectively serve as a poignant portrayal of patriarchy, thoughtfully presented by Gerwig. To reclaim their identity and challenge these norms, the Barbies must undergo heart-wrenching moments, notably seen in Gloria’s (America Ferrera) monologue, as displayed below. In this powerful scene, Gloria captures the struggles women endure just to be recognised and valued for their individuality, resonating with the challenges many women face.  

A funny notion in the movie is that it contains numerous absurd elements. From a swarm of men chasing after a doll but struggling to open a gate to comically lengthy names like Mojo Dojo Casa Houses and an abundance of horses, it embraces exaggeration for humor. However, beneath the humor lies a layer of truth mirroring reality. In the real world, we encounter men in powerful positions, clad in expensive suits, seemingly oblivious to certain aspects, yet holding immense authority in multi-million corporations and high-ranking government positions.

The Mattel headquarters serves as a stark representation of this reality: a tall, metallic-gray business building with uniform cubicles, devoid of colors, and no connection between lower-level workers and top management. The latter is primarily assembled by a dozen middle-aged men whose discussions revolve entirely around Barbie. It’s somewhat ironic how this resembles the factory of “a little girl’s dream.” By juxtaposing absurdities with real-world parallels, the movie touches upon societal dynamics and power structures in a clever and amusing manner, making it both entertaining and thought-provoking.

However, more importantly, the movie delves into the theme of identity. As Barbie embarks on her journey of self-discovery, so does Ken. They both shed their stereotypical Barbie and Ken personas to uncover their true selves. Ken realizes that he is more than just “Barbie’s boyfriend” and becomes simply “just Ken.” (Even if it takes a musical number in black chinos and loafers to find his identity.) For Barbie, it’s no longer about her easygoing life in Barbieland; it’s about understanding womanhood. This transformation encompasses much more than just her role as a Barbie doll; it is a profound exploration of her individual growth. The film’s ending montage, with all women united in happiness, as Barbie gets to experience what it truly means to be a real woman, is emotionally touching and left me in tears.

All I have to say is, “Barbie” is not just a whimsical adventure; it delves into complex themes and messages about self-discovery, womanhood, and the challenges of becoming your own person. For an enriching exploration of feminism on the big screen, rush to the theatres, as Greta Gerwig skillfully serves it to the audience with a delightful touch. It’s simple, it’s welcoming, it’s pink.