Love it or hate it, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie has smashed box-office records, making over one billion dollars since it burst onto the cinematic scene on 21st July! The Joy Club member Jen Cromar offers her psychoanalytical expertise in her review of this ground-breaking (though divisive) film…
Have you seen it yet? I am dying to talk about it. The problem with loving going to the cinema alone? No one to discuss the film with. Well, I went with my daughter but can’t really talk to her about all the deeper themes. Her eight-year-old self just saw it as fun. It also is such fun.
I have been to see the film twice. First showing I thought it was terrible, but could not get it out of my head. Had I missed something?
So, I went again, with my notebook.
I could write an entire book about this film but this blog focuses on Barbie’s mental health journey.
Happiness (no help required!)
Hollywood bombshell Margot Robbie plays ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ – that is, the doll we all think of when we close our eyes and think ‘Barbie.’ starts with happiness: disco, dancing, fun-all-the-time, girls’ nights, beach days and no change – every single day the same. Dream life, dream house. We meet many ‘Kens’ all living in Barbie Land matriarchy, one Barbie president, and an all-female Supreme Court. All jobs are Barbie jobs.
Stereotypical Barbie wakes up in perfect wellness every single day.
But… mid-disco dance she asks THE existential question: ‘Has anyone ever thought about dying?’ This is the first turning point in the film. She wakes from bad sleep, has bad breath, sour milk and she falls, rather than floats, down to start her day.
Her high-heeled feet even become flat.
Seeking answers, Barbie gets help/therapy. I am sure there is a Barbie psychotherapist somewhere out there, complete with tilted head, empathic smile, saying things like ‘that sounds really hard’ and ‘how do you feel about that?’. Stereotypical Barbie goes to visit Weird Barbie, with terribly cut hair, drawings on her face, her legs in permanent splits — a victim of an overenthusiastic playmate.
Weird Barbie is wise through her lived experience. She offers Stereotypical Barbie the ‘Matrix Choice’: like the blue pill/red pill from the Matrix films, but high heeled Barbie Land shoe (illusion) or Real World Birkenstock (reality), representing a choice: embark on a journey of self-discovery or keep living in the same ‘perfect world’.
Barbie discovers her mission: locate the child who is playing with her in the Real World. The theory is that the child must be having battles with life and identity, causing Barbie to also question existence and self.
Rollerblading with Ken into the Real World (in DayGlo skates and stunning matching outfits) Barbie is struck with a sensation so unfamiliar she does not know the name of it… people are looking, pointing, and laughing at them! She starts feeling self-conscious, realising the Real World is not as she thought it was.
Choice and change
Enter the Mattel patriarchy. They want no change in Barbie Land or the Real World. They want to put Barbie (literally) back in her box. Her new consciousness is a threat. Barbie runs away, escaping to a long corridor with doors — a therapy tool representing life choices/turning points/memories. Behind one door Barbie meets an old lady. They have a cup of tea together.
Unbeknown to Barbie the old lady is Barbie creator Ruth Handler. Blink and you miss it: as a cup of tea is passed to Barbie, the finger of Barbie and Creator touch, like in Michelangelo’s painting ‘Creation of Adam’. Barbie is given the spark of life. In an interview, Margo Robbie said this was her favourite scene, so it must be key.
Barbie experiences deeper feelings… tears, loneliness, and fears at how real life is constant change. She has a complete breakdown on return to Barbie Land. Ken has turned the matriarchy into a patriarchy after experiencing the Real World patriarchy. Enter Depression Barbie who wears sweatpants all day, comes with a family pack of Starburst to eat alone whilst escaping into 1990’s BBC’s Pride and Prejudice series.
Barbie breakdown = the second turning point (therapists call them ‘breakthroughs’). We, the audience, and Barbie are given this amazing monologue about the impossible contradictions of being a woman.
Barbie Land is restored through speaking truth, as the Barbies and Kens open up to one another about their true feelings. Accessing truth – and confronting our innermost thoughts and feelings as honestly as possible – is how we rebuild ourselves too. This is why talking therapy is an invaluable tool for enabling people to heal.
Talking with Creator/God
Barbie again talks to the creator, Ruth. Her past life is gone, new awareness can not be switched off. She can choose what she wants to become. We see images of her mouth breathing life, her heart-shaped pendant representing a connection to heart, her thoughtful eye ready with music lyrics ‘what was I made for?’. A new chapter, just beginning.
Emotional crises can take us into dark places. But, like Barbie, we can transform that pain into wisdom and new life.
So much more to write, but my word count is full. Honestly, this movie is so good. Go see it – and go see it again, if you did not like it the first time round!
Have you seen the Barbie movie? What did you think? Let Jen and other members know in the comments below…