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Every night is girl’s night: A review of “Barbie”


By Jurek Molnar

I’ve got scars that can’t be seen…

David Bowie, Lazarus


Barbie has a death wish.

In Greta Gerwig’s movie, which starts with a parody of Kubricks’ “2001”, the main character, Stereotypical Barbie lives a happy and perfect life in Barbie Land, but suddenly expresses  depression and anxiety. In Barbie Land where such things have naturally no existence, the twist occurs out of pure necessity to create a story. Barbie is presented by the narrator as the main source of feminist liberation, who replaced the boring dolls of ancient times, to become the role model for ALL women by performing high status professions.

After we have witnessed Barbie’s regular day, the first real event is the confession that she wishes to die. This comes as a stunning surprise. The regular day that she has experience is a constant passage of pleasure in a world that is specifically designed to make her feel great. She is permanently celebrated, valued and cherished and the environment she is living in, Barbie Land, is an endless repeating session of positive and supporting feedback loops. In this world as Barbie later explained to visitors from the real world, women rule and women perform all the things men do in the real world. (The irony is lost on the writers.) The president of Barbie Land is a black woman, the Supreme Court is a team of cheerleaders, other Barbies are Nobel prize winners, doctors, scientists, astronauts, athletes and lawyers and a few obese Barbies are celebrated with the same positive reinforcement as Stereotypical Barbie herself is. All female desire in Barbie Land is focused on prestigious appearances and the passionate performance of effortless success.  Every night is girl’s night and Ken, a useless pompous idiot, has to leave early, while he is desperately craving for her attention like a puppy. Men are of course not important to Barbie, but somehow exist for no particular reason and without any identifiable purpose. In her mansion, girl power is the party which celebrates girl power. Barbie’s life is miraculous, happy and full of pleasure.

Nevertheless, Barbie wants to die. The main reason is explained by Weird Barbie, another strange character in this movie of strange characters. The girl in the real world that has played with her, must suffer from anxiety and depression and for some unknown reason, Barbie has to fix this problem in the real world. The plot has to happen somehow. So, Barbie walks into the real world and Ken, the pompous idiot he is, insists on walking with her for some stupid reason. He is a stubborn and pretentious boy, after all.

Beside the Kens there is also one other man named Alan (maybe a hint to the half man Alan from the TV show “Two and a half Men”), but the role or purpose of men in Barbie Land remains specifically unclear. Alan is most of all useless, a goofy sidekick and unlike Ken not even handsome. At one time he has a battle scene with some construction workers, which has no point in the story. He is just there, so nobody can complain he is not, although nobody would have complained anyway. But that’s what “Barbie” as a movie is all about: the reason things happen is purely the effect of trying to have a story, which has no real motivation in itself. “Barbie” after all is a fantasy, which needs to pretend to be a necessary fantasy.

When Barbie and Ken enter the real world, they get immediately arrested, but are released soon without any explanation why or how. The real world it seems isn’t so much of a reality and the writers  definitely trouble to show the distinction, they are telling instead. Ken, the pompous idiot, discovers that the real world is dominated by men, and is determined to establish a patriarchy in Barbie Land. His experience for the first time in his life is, that he gets respect and appreciation. (Again, the irony is lost on the writers.) Ken’s understanding of patriarchy seems to be that he has a role, a purpose and that he enjoys self-respect. Not the first time the writers seem unaware of what they are saying.

Barbie finds the girl that suffers, but the brat calls her a fascist and a product of sexualized capitalism, who has thrown back feminism fifty years. The allegation comes as a surprise and Barbie is shattered, because she has thought of herself to this point in terms of liberation and female empowerment. The brat’s mom, it turns out is actually the girl that has played with Barbie and as a grown-up woman she suffers from her struggles with her daughter. Barbie’s death wish comes from her projections and her dissatisfaction with her boring life. The reconciliation between mother and daughter becomes one of the main plots of the film.

Back in Barbie Land, Ken the useless and pompous idiot, establishes his patriarchy, which means he and all the other Kens own the house and every night is now boy’s night. Barbie has to leave the property and experiences a nervous breakdown. By establishing the patriarchy, the Kens manage to bring all other barbies under their influence and turn them from creative, empowered women with self-esteem into creatures, who have no will of their own, serve the boys beer and resemble in this regard the Kens of the time before, which goes mysteriously unnoticed by everyone who should have paid attention. The only difference is that the Barbies are considered victims of a cruel and heartless ideology, while the Kens were not. The newly established patriarchy also creates the opportunity for all the Barbies to hit back against the useless pompous idiots, who populate Barbie Land for no particular reason. After Barbie and her army of Barbies get together, they seduce the Kens with the weapons of flirtation to overthrow the rule of the Kens again. The day is saved and the useless pompous idiots are back in their rightful place. Barbie has learned her lesson and promises that from now on, not every night will be girl’s night and her exit from Barbie Land to the real world is the simple choice to visit a gynecologist.

That is pretty much the story of this movie. If you think you missed something like an entertaining story and character development, you are absolutely right.

The most interesting part of this movie for me is Barbie’s death wish. Besides “2001”, another reference mocks “The Matrix”. Weird Barbie offers Stereotypical Barbie a fake choice between a high heel shoe and a Birkenstock sandal, like Morpheus presents Neo the blue and  red pills. In “The Matrix” the Engineer explains to Neo that a perfect world, which was originally created to run the simulation, caused rebellion and chaos in  human minds. Human minds are only able to accept  simulated reality, when the experience of reality is harsh and complicated. Barbie has a death wish, because her colorful and pleasure-driven life in this dream world is obviously unbearable, but the fact itself does not have any impact on the story and does not change anything in the environment she is living in. The writers of “Barbie”, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, use the Matrix reference as a comical device, but do not care about its consequence. Barbie’s death wish, in Freudian terms an unconscious reaction to the fact that in her world there is nothing to achieve which requires effort, determination and hard work, is a plot driver but not a source of growth and development. The black female president, the obese star lawyer, the Nobel prize winner (for literature) and the successful doctor are all projections of an effortless success, in which empowerment means that women can perform prestigious high-status professions. The Nobel prize winner for literature is never shown writing let alone reading, the obese star lawyer only talks about her own feelings and all of these figures are constantly celebrated. All that matters is that they are seen and perceived as remarkable, but they don’t have  to do anything for this perception.  The strange idea of the Barbie world is that success and achievement are natural elements of a female existence, which always generates instant gratification. The high-status professions the Barbies are invested in, signal most of all prestige, glory and fame. What matters to these characters is what matters to the writers and producers, who made the film. It is about attention and being celebrated all the time. The prestige is the state of being admired, cherished and valued by other high-status prestige individuals, who share the same ambition for fashionable appearances. The construction workers that get senselessly beaten up by the goofy beta male called Alan in between are naturally all male. There are no Barbies who are bricklayers, garbage collectors or construction workers. The pretentious ideological appeal to equality is a fake, in the same way Barbie Land is a fake. There are a few obese Barbies, for the inclusion of course, but there are no obese Kens. While the Kens are unimportant, goofy and useless, they all share the same attractive fitness. Some seem to be gay, for no particular reason, but none of them lack six packs.

The strange alienation that Barbie feels and that triggers a death wish in her, is the strange atmosphere of this film to pretend that certain things are desirable, while they are obviously wrong, idiotic or delusional. The shameless appropriation of feminist struggles is one particular revolting aspect, but much more annoying is the corporate DEI agenda, which makes ALL women Barbie consumers, while also assimilating the rejection. No woman and no girl will ever escape this bubble, even the critical brat submits to its power in the end. Thus even the anti-capitalist rhetoric is part of the corporate business model. Resistance is futile. Barbie has a death wish, because this version of a pseudo-feminist nightmare is unbearable. The ideological imperatives behind it are the playground of elite Hollywood princesses like Greta Gerwig. The pretentious claim that Barbie is for ALL women, while in the real world, acclaim, attention and  prestige are only available for atiny number of elite princesses, is one of the most embarrassing elements of the film. It serves Greta Gerwig and a few others in the business to get some rewards, while everyone else is a pawn in the game. The language of emancipation is ruthlessly exploited for the sake of a few privileged beneficiaries.

The hatred of men is not the most important part of the film, it is not even a vital part of the message. The degradation of men, the moronic display of pompous and useless idiots is simply convenient. It is meant to hide the lack of creative energy. Men in Barbie land do not have an existence of their own, they are goofy gadgets and convenient excuses for victimhood narratives.  Even the patriarchy is a joke. It is not even evil, just idiotic and incompetent. It is not a threat, just a boring choreography. The Kens are for display, as anything else in Barbie Land is for display. It exists for being seen and has no purpose beyond this.  It can never relate to truth, only to the power of appearance and the display of prestige.

The main feature of “Barbie” is its broken relationship to the game of pretending. She pretends to be something, for the purpose of pretending. She is not interested in doing or creating anything, but simply pretending to do or create something. Intelligent filmmakers may have been able to produce a story that reflects the fake character of “Barbie” and her enormous real-world impact as a tool of children growing up. Such a film may also have had brought into daylight that the Kens and the Barbies in the past had a good relationship and that boys and girls have played with Barbie and Ken together in some remote parts of the world, alien to this purgatory of a film. But such an idea would indicate that the idea of emancipation is not just prestige and fashionable appearance and who actually believes in that sort of thing?