What Conservatives Missed In Barbie
The Barbie movie is a masterpiece that exists entirely outside our current modes of political discourse.
I watched Barbie a few weeks after it came out and it inspired me to write this series since I have seen so few reactions to Barbie that I thought truly understood the movie. But as I’ve sorted through my thoughts, I keep coming back to the same idea: How on earth did this movie get made?
I need to start by saying that this last decade has brought me to a point of the deepest frustration about Hollywood and high-dollar blockbuster filmmaking. Superhero movies feel like they were written by a committee; kids’ films are largely either slapstick and bland story with eye-rolling jokes, or an attempt to introduce children to alternate sexualities while delivering a bland story with eye-rolling jokes. The old staple of romantic comedy has died a tragic death as every big budget movie now requires three-to-five CG action set pieces while making a pretense toward drama by fake-killing a major character who we all know we’re going to see again in the sequel because of the alternate universe theory.
I’m looking directly at you, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (which was actually one of the better movies this year).
I assumed this was where the Barbie movie was headed, albeit with less CG action. Even so, I was pretty interested in the Barbie movie from the trailers; I liked the aesthetic, which was funny and chirpy and cute. It looked like the actors were having fun and I will watch just about any movie in which you can see the people on the screen really taking joy in their work.
What I saw in the theaters was not the movie I saw in the trailer. Indeed, I have never seen a billion dollar franchise film this subversive. I’m shocked Greta Gerwig got this movie through the pipeline as it is, and I’m even more shocked that Mattel allowed this movie to escape out into the world.
What I saw was a scathing satire of corporate feminism and the gender culture war. It was a deeply human movie consumed with love for both women and men, while recognizing that they are vastly different creatures.
There is no way to talk about this movie without spoilers; the only appropriate way to watch Barbie is to see it fresh without preconceptions. With that known, let’s jump into how I saw this movie and what I love about it.
I was not prepared for the very first scene, which was a masterpiece of comic satire. We open on a set piece showing how little girls have always played with dolls, but they have always been baby dolls. We see little girls in an otherworldly barren landscape all taking care of their baby dolls, emotionlessly performing the role of caretaker and mother. The narrator informs us that the introduction of Barbie represented a new kind of doll for girls. She represents an aspiration to mature independent womanhood instead of a toward the nurturing care of motherhood. This all plays out as a reference to the scene in 2001 where an alien artifact causes an awakening among a group of apes that effectively turns them from animals into people.
So what do these girls do with this awakening? Do they play with Barbie? No! The very first thing they do is smash their babies against the rocks.
It’s hard to describe my astonishment at the allegorical meaning of this. Yes, it’s a joke, but it’s also a vivid way to establish the tone of the movie. Is the filmmaker really introducing her main character by saying that she came as a destroyer of motherhood and represents a violent rebuke to the nurturing instinct in young girls? That seems insane. As the original 2001 scene represented the birth of civilization, this represents its utter destruction. The human race without babies, without mothers, is dead.
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