Let’s By no means Cease Questioning What Barbie Is Actually About

Replace: Now that Barbie is in theaters, we are able to lastly be certain of what the movie’s about: Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie ventures into the “Actual World” to study which hapless human has triggered her malfunctions. Alongside the best way, she learns who made her, the ethical implications of demise and decision-making, the tangled net of patriarchy and feminism, the lure of tried perfection, and the significance of originality in an onslaught of IP. The plot additionally has lots to say about Matchbox Twenty, and horses, and the creation of the boy-band NSYNC.

So—wait. Do we all know what Barbie’s about? Perhaps we should always preserve debating?

The textual content beneath 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 certainly one of 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 obtained and dissected with the self-serious thrill of an 8-year-old planning their themed celebration. Which, to be clear, is precisely correctly. Questioning Barbie, like assembling an identification as a baby, is a needed 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, actually, beginning to dissolve: The Los Angeles premiere prompted a spherical of spoiler-free first reactions (largely optimistic), and the official critic assessment 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 greatest summarized this sense: “Each time I see a trailer for this film I’m extra confused however I additionally wish to see it extra.”

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% trustworthy, when she was speaking, like, it was entertaining, however I didn’t get it.” she mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘I don’t know what the fuck she was speaking about, however no matter it’s, I’m excited she’s behind it.’ After which studying it was, like, ‘Oh my God, I like her much more.’”

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

To this point, we’ve had such fascinating theories on the target of her eponymous movie:

1) It’s about having an existential disaster (and likewise, demise).

Right here’s what we all know for certain: In Barbie, our protagonist finds herself dropping her grip over her inherent Barbie-ness. “Do you guys ever take into consideration dying?” she asks throughout certainly one of her basic blowout events, incomes shocked, judgment silence in response. Dolls don’t die! Issues solely worsen from there: All of a sudden, her faux bathe is freezing; she falls, reasonably than floats, from her rooftop into her convertible; her ft hunch from their iconic arch. To treatment this imperfection, she’s instructed to discover the “actual world,” so she will know “the reality in regards to the universe.”

The issue with the “reality in regards to the universe” is that it’s a scorching mess, and folks die. Barbie is just not a large number, 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 a logo of idealized femininity. What about perfectionism stays so engaging, even once 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 connected to the complete Barbie trailer lays out an intriguing path for Ken, Barbie’s everlasting boyfriend: “To reside in Barbie Land is to be an ideal being in an ideal place. Until you might have a full-on existential disaster. Otherwise 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 surprising casting of Gosling within the function. The “Simply Ken” music video additional establishes that Ken can’t extricate himself from Barbie, although she finds him solely ancillary. If Barbie have 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 true world is a reasonably agreeable place for cis, white, supposedly heterosexual males like himself. (In fact, we shouldn’t assume Ken’s sexuality isn’t fluid. Or that he has a sexuality! He’s a doll!) Would possibly he then wish to keep?

Even when Barbie doesn’t lay out its “males 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 in every single 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 quite a lot of enjoyable. And with fervor comes backlash, as witnessed in critiques that Barbie is little greater than a flashy industrial for toy model Mattel. These critiques, by the best way, are right. 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 due to this fact about branding, and is then a critique of branding, in the identical breath because it additional establishes that branding. You see? We might preserve speaking about this! Without end!

margot robbie winking as barbie in the barbie movie

Warner Bros. YouTube

4) It’s about feminism.

Effectively, yeah. Duh.

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

[Young girls] are “humorous and brash and assured, after which they only—cease,” Gerwig advised Vogue in Could. “How is that this journey the identical factor {that a} teenage woman feels? Rapidly, she thinks, Oh, I’m not adequate.” It’s clear {that a} huge chunk of Barbie’s purpose is to discover why women abandon not solely their Barbie dolls, however a few of the optimistic beliefs related to them.

“We haven’t performed with Barbies since we have been, like, 5 years outdated,” a bunch of teenagers inform Margot Robbie’s Barbie within the movie trailer. Her face falls. If women don’t want Barbie, what does she exist for? And who (or what) do they flip to as an alternative? 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 also be an everywoman. She has tons of of jobs and has by no means labored a day in her life. (She can also be, importantly, not alive.) She is greater than 60 years outdated and eternally, vaguely 20-something. (Previous reviews point out Mattel claims she’s 19.) She is attractive however sexless. She’s a baby’s plaything, with affect felt extensively on adults.

“For those who love Barbie, this film is for you,” reads the copy within the Barbie trailer. “For those who hate Barbie, this film is for you.” There isn’t a clearer case for why the Barbie discourse ought to proceed long gone the movie’s ecstatic launch. She is—because the memes tout—every part! Her film is all the above! We want not agree on each certainly one of Barbie’s exact intentions; we want solely acknowledge why there’s a lot extra to dissect than an infinite onslaught of pink.

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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.