Is Barbie self-aware? Or is Barbie just aware of the self? Being that being cannot exist in a void we are supposed to ask ourselves asking of our selves. If this world is the next, when did we get here?
Existential crisis? Clearly, as are most forms of self-reflection through a mirror of society. A reckoning of wondering where we fit in the world. We see others plainly for their careers or trajectories that they must have a clear path. An illusion of the outer-self that they both unknowingly and meticulously present. One we are only superficially allowed, and within we are ever lost.
Barbie weaves in and out of its own lore. Cutting deep on its production history, lines of dolls and figures, even the tax evasion. The Narrator (Helen Mirren) and other characters quickly drop notes on the nods and references letting the story continue apace, bringing the rest of us up to speed. For those that need some time to warm up their joints on the first parts of the end credits there is a catalogue review of the obscure, discontinued and odd dolls roaming Barbieland.
The dolls that inhabit the pink-scape are all real. A recurring statement that ties back into its meta-narrative. These are not just characters traipsing stiff-legged in a fantasy world. They are proxies and avatars for the greater unknown hands wielding their fates and fortunes. The superego with full resources, tied only by the guiding thoughts that dream for them.
The Barbies and Kens to an extent know they are being manipulated by the unseen force in a parallel dimension. They understand a place that belongs inside this realm of rules that go only so far, and snap back without a hint of there being more than this. They are a mirror in a sense that a reflection can also be a reverse, or inverse, of the actual state. The patriarchy that exists is flipped and decorated in pink by the matriarchy. Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) is the oracle, a Morpheus if you will. One that understands the architecture of the matrix of Barbie and real worlds and the bridge between.
The avatars seem to have no issues sitting, or bending limbs, so they must all be the alternative moulds that include knees and elbows. Otherwise it’s all long on the deck chairs with straight lines from hip to ankle. Then again, toward the third act, when Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) feels the weight of it all collapse upon her, the doll physics come back to truth. Flopping on the astroturf with stiff, limited range of articulation.
Stereotypical Barbie stands in for everyone who wakes up and wonders, “When does this all end?” The other question, really, is where does it all end?
There is a “shining” connection between a Barbie and their real-world anchor that suggests a one-to-one relationship. A psychic bond that while there, we don’t explore much beyond (or we are kept out of that spiral) of what happens to the Barbie or Ken that is no longer attached. Does their “soul” transfer to the next play-host? Or perhaps they are untethered, left to walk the lands of Barbie unburdened by the loss of self. Their sense of meaning and purpose no longer bound to the wishes and hopes of their counterpart.
Before we step into enlightenment, or the next plane of existence, we must discard ourselves. Leave behind saṃsāra and crash into the beach with a newfound sense of self. One distinct and discrete of the binding ties, those endless cycles of passing through the hands of generations. We never actually explore what happens when a doll passes hands, or when a person severs a connection otherwise. They explore that topic as much as the mother-daughter relationship looking for repair. Thoughts of death are one thing. Picking up after the scattered shards weathers us through the next coming of age.
The epic battle of the Kens breaks tension and sees Ken (Ryan Gosling) and Ken (Simu Liu) ride into battle not against each other, but more for each other. They are dying on the shores of Malibu Beach assailed by and amongst endless amounts of accessories. A note that they too, lost in this sea of ribbon and hobby-horses, are themselves accessories to the main. You don’t have “Ken”, you have “and Ken” and that’s not enough to sustain a sense of being until you walk away from it all and embrace being lost for a while. Lost enough to realise that you were already there.
Barbie does not ask us to walk blindly with rose-coloured glasses into a world of pink. Flipping things on their head to a world of extremes is not always the answer. It is an answer, but then we are right back where we started. Scrawling in the margins, waiting for the day when we leave it as dust.
Barbie, through the lens of Greta Gerwig, is a commercial deep to its core. This one attempts to sell us on the idea that we can be more than ourselves.
Reviewed on Tuesday, 22 August 2023