Barbie’s Ultimate Joke Is Additionally Its Most Significant Lesson

Spoilers beneath.

Barbie shouldn’t be a mom, until you rely the tens of millions of younger women she’s formed in her picture—whom, in fact, you should rely. Barbie the film, director Greta Gerwig’s record-breaking box-office hit, takes this contradiction critically, in as far as any movie combining company branding, cellulite, Matchbox Twenty, and dying can take itself critically. Barbie was by no means meant to be a mom; the pregnant doll Mattel invented as a proxy for Barbie was Glad Household Midge, whose removable-baby stomach was condemned for “selling” teen being pregnant. As narrator Helen Mirren informs audiences within the opening scenes of Barbie, Midge was discontinued for being “too bizarre,” apparently too tough to reconcile with childhood creativeness. Barbie herself has remained clean and ageless and, importantly, with out reproductive organs of any variety for the whole thing of her 64 years on Mattel’s manufacturing unit line. Which is precisely why the Barbie film’s ending is so delightfully subversive.

Any particular person, and positively any girl—whether or not cis, trans, non-binary, or in any other case—will inform you that genitals imply an excellent deal to a large number of individuals, no matter whether or not or not they need to. Inside hours of Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie getting into Barbie’s “Actual World,” she enlightens a bunch of males heckling her with the easy fact that she has no genitals, and neither does Ken—so, hey, the joke’s on them. This reality doesn’t appear to trouble Barbie herself; it’s Ken, somewhat, who seems humiliated by the revelation.

The movie tickles these gendered defenses till they collapse, culminating in a confrontation in Barbie Land between the just lately brainwashed Barbies and the newly educated Kens, who’ve determined to deliver patriarchy again to Barbie Land within the type of beer and horses and the vocal inflections of Rob Thomas. However the battle doesn’t finish with Barbie restoring the Nice Feminist Order to her world, the place the Kens are free to seashore one another off into oblivion; as a substitute, she realizes simply how flawed her understanding of gender was from the start.

margot robbie as barbie in the barbie movie

Jaap Buitendijk

She meets, as soon as once more, along with her creator, Ruth Handler (as portrayed by Rhea Perlman), who takes her betwixt the membranes of the Actual World and Barbie Land. This dimension—wherever or no matter it may be—has no clear starting or finish. It’s the hazy white room of the In Between. I’d go as far as to say it’s an allegorical in-utero, its inhabitants not but born however undeniably actual, floating in contested territory. Right here, Ruth presents Barbie with a deeper model of the selection first posited by Kate McKinnon’s Bizarre Barbie in the beginning of the movie: Keep and stay one-dimensional, or depart and embrace chaos. Ruth makes the perils of this selection apparent. If Barbie stays, she’ll eternally mimic a model of perfection she now not believes in. If she leaves, she’s going to now not be an concept however a creature, one that may stay however also can die. Her arched footprint will now not be ideological however materials, and the results shall be a lot tougher to disregard.

“We moms stand nonetheless so our daughters can look again to see how far they’ve come,” Ruth tells Barbie, in one of many movie’s extra fascinating traces. She is referencing, in fact, her relationship to her personal daughter—Barbara Handler, whom Barbie was named after. However she can also be referencing Barbie herself, whom Ruth imagined and designed and fought for and bought. By “trying again” on the found-footage sequence Ruth then presents, as if via a prophetic imaginative and prescient, Barbie can see how far she has come, each within the context of the movie itself and within the higher cultural creativeness over her six many years of iconography. Barbie means one thing totally different to a contemporary period than she did to the kids of 1969. However she continues to affect them; she continues to elevate them. It’s a lovely, difficult factor, similar to the slices of life displayed within the dwelling movies. And it poses an excellent accountability, to which Barbie solutions, “Sure.”

But the movie doesn’t finish right here. The precise ending of Barbie takes place in a single ultimate sequence, as Barbie’s new human household (together with America Ferrera’s Gloria and Ariana Greenblatt’s Sasha) drops her off at an unmarked workplace constructing. We don’t know precisely the place Barbie is, solely that she’s getting ready for a momentous event within the Actual World. Maybe a job interview? Perhaps the DMV? Gerwig offers us one final smirk as Barbie marches as much as the entrance desk and broadcasts, “I’m right here to see my gynecologist.”

It’s a final snigger for the ages. However what makes it such an ideal line to finish with shouldn’t be solely its humor however its significance. Barbie is a human now. She has, we will assume, human organs. The particular nature of these organs doesn’t matter. The mechanics of how she obtained these organs doesn’t matter both, not more than it mattered how Barbie might magically float from her rooftop to her pink Corvette any time a toddler picked her as much as play. What issues is that she now carries the hallmarks of human womanhood, and she or he should discover ways to stay with them.

Now, I believe it’s essential to notice right here what Gerwig is not saying: that womanhood or motherhood are designated purely by the standing of 1’s reproductive organs. Relatively, I imagine she’s alluding to the alternative: that such statuses are difficult, such organs are difficult, and that they ought to be—as a result of the complexity of humanity is a supply of its magnificence. On the finish of the movie, Stereotypical Barbie takes her first step to embracing that complexity by waltzing right into a historic human establishment of care and confusion, pleasure and ache: the gynecologist’s workplace.

Because the daughter of a gynecologist, I’ve lengthy related my mom’s office with each the unsettling scent of antiseptic and the heat of her snigger echoing from the examination room. I’m not but a mom, however I’ve one, and I’ve walked (and performed) within the corridors the place so many moms are made—organic, adoptive, figurative, and in any other case. It ought to go with out saying that Barbie doesn’t want genitals to be a mom, nor does she want to provide delivery to have affect. However by giving Barbie organs, and by taking her to the place the place such organs are cared for, Gerwig crops Barbie firmly within the complexity of our personal human experiences. She is held up not simply as an icon of our desires (and insecurities), however as a mirror to our lived actuality. There’s monumental energy in such an act, notably for a company model that has wielded such energy over kids’s imaginations.

As many critics have already identified, Barbie can’t repair Barbie. The movie itself is flawed, compromised by its personal subject material and an explosive advertising and marketing marketing campaign. There are elements of the film I want dug deeper, hit tougher, and stayed longer. However I’ll keep in mind that ending. I’ll bear in mind the best way it introduced Barbie as a mom—not as a result of she has organs, or kids, or perhaps a good gynecologist, however as a result of she is so glad to be gloriously, undeniably human. Going to the gynecologist is the most effective a part of her day! She has raised so many people; to see her thrilled to embrace the messy actuality of womanhood offers us permission to do the identical. Like Ruth, she appears to demand we flip round and ask how far we’ve come.

Headshot of Lauren Puckett-Pope

Tradition Author

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