Barbie: the unexpected philosophical lesson

Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) embark on their trip to the real world, Barbie, 2023. Photo Courtesy of CNN/Warner Bros. Pictures.

By Briana Leibowicz Turchiaro

Boston University News Service

On July 21, 2023, Barbie was released and created a sensation on the Internet. Many people were excited to see the iconic and beloved character brought to life in a colorful comedic movie. What many people did not expect was the philosophical message that Barbie would carry with it; about womanhood and relinquishing insecurities. 

Barbie has been one of the most talked-about movies this past year, going as far back to the infamous rollerblading pictures of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in Venice Beach that came out months before the movie’s release. Barbie has been an incredibly anticipated movie, and was one of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture.

Creating The Barbie World 

One of the most striking differences between Barbie and other movies was the unique and creative set design. In fact, Production Design was another Oscar category Barbie was nominated for. 

When watching the movie, it was clear that Greta Gerwig, director of Barbie, put a lot of effort into being faithful to the iconic Barbie world fans have always loved. Barbieworld contains all the toys we all dreamed of having as kids, from the familiar Barbie outfits to the extravagant pieces of furniture. The world seems simultaneously familiar and special. 

The entire architecture of Barbieworld was built around bright pink colors and recreations of iconic Barbie items, like the dreamhouse and her closet. It created a world unique to other movies that immediately catches the audience’s attention with the amount of detail and dedication put into creating Barbieworld. It makes the audience feel like they are looking at a real, tangible world.

Besides architecture, the movie also uses over-the-top acting. For example, in the scene where Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, runs to surf and Allan, played by Michael Cera, yells “No!”. Another example is when the Barbies are disgusted by the idea of flat feet. 

To some, when first watching the movie with a superficial eye, the use of dramatic acting in Barbie’s world seemed like bad acting because of its excessive nature. But re-watching the movie made me realize that this extra drama makes Barbieworld seem like a world out of a child’s imagination. 

Children have over-the-top responses and act dramatic all the time. The characters were acting as if they were being played by children. 

Another factor that played into creating Barbieworld out of a child’s imagination was the juxtaposition between Barbieworld and the real world. This is most evident in the opening scene, where a map perspective of Barbieworld and the real world is shown. While Barbieworld is shown with vibrant colors, the real world is shown with colder colors. 

The juxtaposition between Barbieworld and the real world emphasizes how Barbieworld is meant to represent a utopia. Each character in Barbieworld is living the perfect life, until main character Barbie is not.

Gerwig uses a character such as Barbie, who has never lived anywhere other than a utopia, to demonstrate underlying messages in her film.

The Underlying Message

Barbie took an iconic universal doll and transformed it into a story with tremendous meaning about gender equality and learning about humanity. The most evident message in Barbie is the desire for gender equality, which is spread through the film’s dialogue and plotline.  

Gerwig worked alongside Noah Baumbach to co-write the screenplay for the film, and the dialogue in the movie is essential to creating the strong messages that are present in the movie.

The movie uses subtle irony in its dialogue to describe the desire for gender equality. The movie begins with subtlety and then escalates into making explicit comments about gender equality, peaking at the famous speech that Gloria (played by America Ferrera) makes.

By approaching the dialogue with a subtle tone of irony, it strengthens the message of gender equality because it introduces the audience to it slowly. If Gerwig had presented the message in a straightforward manner, the impact would not have been the same.  

The ending of the movie is the perfect conclusion for the message of gender equality. The Barbies and Kens in Barbieworld decide that it’s best to live in a balance, demonstrating the value of gender equality. By presenting Barbieworld both under the rule of women, and then under the rule of men, it showed the characters and the audience that equality was the best option

Besides using Barbie in the real world to show the importance of gender equality, Gerwig uses Barbie as a vessel to show what is an even more essential message – the beauty of humanity.

The movie makes viewers appreciate the dynamic nature of humanity, with all the good and the bad, through Barbie’s understanding of what it means to be human. 

In one scene, Barbie is sitting on a park bench and says to an older woman, “You’re so beautiful.” Barbie is used to perfection in her appearance, but in this scene, she appreciates the beauty behind aging. Later in that same scene, Barbie looks at the different emotions being portrayed in the park. She sees a couple fighting and friends laughing and recognizes the beauty in that – the beauty behind being human. 

Gerwig uses Barbie to urge the audience to express more gratitude and appreciation towards humanity. Days that are sad have just as much beauty as days that are happy, but that is something we often forget. 

Having Barbie choose to be a human even though she has the option to live in a utopian world with no significant issues, shows how humanity should be valued. Between the choice of having no worries, and having the dynamic and chaotic nature of being a human, Barbie chooses to be a human. She recognizes the beauty in it, and we should too. 

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