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**Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Barbie**
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach
Produced by David Heyman, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, and Robbie Brenner
Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, and Will Ferrell
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument…then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.1
(emphasis added) —C. S. Lewis
The Barbie movie (2023) begins with the swelling soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).2 However, instead of a mysterious monolith towering before us, we see the colossal figure of the very first Barbie. And instead of primates using bones to bash a skeleton, it’s rage-filled little girls, bashing their babydolls.
Evolution, meet social evolution.
These newly enlightened daughters can now progress, as Andrea Nevins explains, beyond rudimentary play intended “to rehearse the inevitable end of a woman’s story” and instead imagine their futures as astronauts, executives, and physicists — unencumbered by the constricting role of wife and mother.3 After all, mothers don’t really do much. They just “stand still so [their] daughters can look back to see how far they have come.”4 At first blush, this movie doesn’t look like it will be kind to motherhood.
For most commentators on the right, the movie was start-to-end pro-choice, feminist man-bashing. Matriarchy, good; patriarchy, bad. In Barbieland, the women are in charge. Everyone gets along. All the women cheer each other on, and none of them compete (because that’s what we see when groups of women get together in the real world, right?). Motherhood is a total downer. (Who let Midge in here? She makes everyone uncomfortable.5) And as in many comedies geared toward women, all the men are either brainless arm candy (the Kens), bumbling buffoons (the Mattel executive board), pervy, drooling, oglers (the blue-collar workers on Venice beach), or total beta males who probably pee sitting down — Allan (played by Michael Cera) and America Ferrera’s onscreen (and real-life) husband (Ryan Piers Williams). There’s nary a good man to be found anywhere — in Barbieland or the so-called “real world.”6
So yes, girl power, men are dumb, blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard it. We’ve seen it. We’re over it. And if we are going to play fair, can we all at least recognize how much of this movie portrayed manhood like the Babylon Bee web magazine portrays Californians? I mean, seriously — you don’t cast Will Ferrell if you’re even remotely trying to portray reality. Conservatives often fault the left for being so PC that they’ve forgotten how to laugh. Are conservatives (as illustrated by Ben Shapiro’s unhinged Barbie rant7) guilty of the same thing?8 Say it isn’t so.
While I could get into all that, it’s all been done, and done well.9 I don’t dispute many of the themes that Christian discernment ministries have picked up on. But from my perspective, there was a whole lot more than meets the eye. As I talked about the movie with apologists and other regular moviegoers, I realized that I was picking up on things that nobody else seemed to be talking about. And knowing Hollywood, I don’t think the themes I picked up on were purposely put into the movie by the creators. Rather, I think truth has a way of butting in, uninvited. Or as C. S. Lewis put it, there are certain elements that “push in of their own accord.”10 In the Barbie movie, one of those elements is teleology.
What Were We Made for? The concept of teleology describes the purpose for which something or someone was created. Design implies a designer and Barbie unashamedly shows how created self-conscious beings long to know the purpose for which they were created, while (ironically) simultaneously struggling to break free of the designer’s constraints. Sound familiar? It should. That is basically the beginning of the gospel message — the fall. As Barbie (Margot Robbie) says in her conversation with Barbie-creator Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman), “I want to be a part of the people who make meaning, not the thing that is made.”11 Even in Barbieland, the clay is trying to break free of the potter.12 So Barbie accurately depicts the crux of what it means to be a human living in a creator’s shadow. In Barbieland, however, the creator is much more amenable to the suggestion that Barbie can decide anything she wants for herself.13
Barbie wants to be human (a meaning creator), even if that means introducing imperfection into her perfect world. After being told that she doesn’t need permission from the creator to be who she wants to be, Barbie closes her eyes to feel her truth. Cue a very revealing video montage featuring the ethereal voice of Billie Eilish crooning “What was I made for?”14 (a.k.a. what is my telos?).
The montage is made up almost exclusively of women in everyday life. But what few are talking about is that this “everyday life” shows the progression of marriage, the birthing of babies, and the raising of children from toddler to teen and then to adult.15 The message seemed so clear to me: we were made for family. And what do you need for a family? Men, marriage, and motherhood.
So, ironically, while the movie starts with the bashing of babies in favor of career-ready Barbies, it ends with a montage celebrating marriage and family; and it’s all set to a soundtrack asking what we were made for! Yes, Barbie movie makers, you accidentally answered your own question, though probably not in the way you intended.
Surely writer and director Greta Gerwig realized that this was the message the montage conveyed. It seemed too obvious to miss. But no, she didn’t. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gerwig shares that her intention of the montage was to make the film “extremely personal” by featuring real home videos from both cast and crew.16 There is no mention of the content of the montage. In short, when she asked cast and crew to share their most personal and important memories, they did. And guess what their most prized moments were? It was all about family. No model U.N. speeches, or moments in a school musical. Not a keynote-speaking clip to be seen. Just relationships, babies, children running around, and friends sitting around a campfire. Seriously, if this scene had been in a Christian movie, audiences would have called it preachy, oppressive, restrictive, or oversimplifying the role of women. And yet, this little nugget of truth managed to wriggle its way in, of its own accord. Truth has a funny way of doing that.
Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. As a non-mother, I recognize the immense value of women apart from childbearing. But I can also admit that not having children is something that is worth grieving. There is still a part of me that wishes I could know the joy of seeing a little Hillary-John hybrid running around. So, for the non-married or married-without-kids women out there, God still has a unique calling, a valuable contribution and telos for your life, even if your circumstances prevent you from fulfilling the general mandate of Genesis 1:28 — “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (ESV). The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20 can be fulfilled in many different ways — apart from motherhood.
Traditional Gender Roles? Another nugget I noticed that I haven’t heard people mentioning is the Barbie movie’s oddly accurate depiction of children’s play based on the gender of the child. In a supposedly woke movie, the creators portray a considerable amount of gender-conforming behavior.
Much of what goes on in Barbieland represents what actual little girls are doing with their Barbies in the real world. And what are they doing? Hair. Makeup. Pretty dresses. Everyone getting along. Everyone helping each other — many of the traits that have been considered stereotypically feminine. But the girls’ play is not what intrigued me the most. No, what was oddly left out of most discussions about the movie is what happened after Ken’s Mojo Doja Casa House started flying off the shelves in the real world.
Who would be clamoring for a Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House? Boys. And what happens after boys suddenly start playing with the Kens? Only the most epic battle Barbieland has ever seen. We’re talking noogies, purple nurples,17 Ken-battalions riding fake horses (complete with Monty Python-worthy sound effects), and basically a “Care Bear Stare” type of slay power that the Kens harness by flexing their muscles at the opponent. That there, friends, is boy logic. Magical flexing is generally not found among the fantasy rules of girl-play.18 The movie doesn’t seem to make the connection that all this happened right after boys started playing with the Kens. And yet this little reality nugget still pushed its way in. Bottom line: boys and girls in general play differently.19 I wish the moviemakers had realized exactly what they were depicting and flashed a quick scene of boys bashing their Kens together in the real world during the Barbieland battle scene. But alas, they may not have realized that this is what they were depicting. In short: once boys start playing with the Kens, Barbieland goes barbarian.
The Oppression of the Sexes Goes Both Ways. Many commentators have talked about how the Barbie movie uplifts the matriarchy while condemning the patriarchy. I’ve had to wonder how closely these people watched the movie. Who runs the world in Barbieland? Girls. The Barbies. And it appears fairly utopian — if you’re a Barbie. If you’re a Ken? Too bad, so sad. The only way you’re having a good day is “if Barbie looks at [you].”20 Oddly enough, the Barbie-archy is portrayed as equally toxic as classic patriarchy. There’s a revealing moment near the end where Barbie realizes that she has no idea where Ken (Ryan Gosling) sleeps. Does he even have a house? After being relegated to the sidelines for the second half of the movie, Barbie realizes what she and the other Barbies have done to the Kens for all this time, and she has a gut check: pot, meet kettle.
The conversation between Barbie and Ken (about how unfairly they have treated each other) circles back to our original discussion about teleology. What was Barbie created for? To inspire little girls to be whatever they want to be. But what was Ken created for? He was literally created by Ruth/Mattel just to be Barbie’s arm candy. And the movie depicts him as completely miserable if he cannot fulfill his telos. Even though Barbie tries to convince him to see himself apart from her (i.e., as just “Ken” not “Barbie and Ken”), I doubt that he will be able to do so. Why? Because we cannot flourish in that for which we were not created. And in this fictional world, Ken was created for Barbie; try as she might, I doubt Barbie will be able to erase that from Ken’s poor little plastic DNA — exactly how the movie shows.
Although the overt message that the Barbie movie makers intended was that we get to decide what our telos is, what they depicted was a whole other story. Barbie can be happy being whatever she wants to be because that was the original intention of the Mattel makers. Ken, however, is inconsolable when he’s unable to live out his Mattel-designed telos as Barbie’s other half. Fact: we created beings are miserable apart for our creator’s imbued telos. Reality, y’all. The revenge of reality almost always makes its way into good storytelling, even stories as silly as Barbie.
Final Thoughts. All in all, Barbie is an intriguing mix of smart writing, cultural provocation, and accidental truths. Any movie that gets the kind of polarized love-it-or-hate-it type engagement that we’ve seen here is worth watching — if for no other reason than to give your two cents. While there are definitely woke themes present, the movie does not allow itself to be as black-and-white preachy as many are accusing it of being. But neither is it countercultural — at least not on purpose. Rather, it is a mix, if you look beyond what was intended and pay attention to elements (as Lewis would have said) that push their way in of their own accord. —Hillary Morgan Ferrer
Hillary Morgan Ferrer is the founder and Mama-Bear-in-Chief of Mama Bear Apologetics. She feels a burden for providing accessible apologetics resources for busy moms. Hillary is the coauthor and general editor of Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She has her master’s degree in biology from Clemson University.
- C. S. Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” (1956), in On Stories and Other Essays on Literature (New York: HarperCollins, 1982), 69.
- Technically, it’s several minutes in, but still at the beginning.
- Andrea Nevins, “Guest Column: How Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ Tends to Her Superpowers,” The Hollywood Reporter, August 1, 2023, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-features/greta-gerwig-barbie-movie-feminism-analysis-1235548386/#!
- Quote from the Ruth Handler character (Barbie creator, played by Rhea Perlman) in Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig and written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures, 2023).
- This is the punchline at multiple times in the movie. Midge (Emerald Fennell) is the pregnant version of Barbie that didn’t last very long. Eliana Dockterman, “What to Know about Midge and Allan, the Deepest Cuts from the Barbie Movie,” Time, April 7, 2023, https://time.com/6269297/barbie-movie-midge-allan/.
- And by “good man,” we mean the kind that Nancy Pearcey describes in her recent book The Toxic War on Masculinity (Baker Books, 2023) — strong, capable, protective, competent, gentle, loving, and responsible.
- Ben Shapiro, “Ben Shapiro Destroys the Barbie Movie for 43 Minutes,” The Daily Wire, YouTube, July 22, 2023, https://youtu.be/ynU-wVdesr0.
- In fairness, caricatures are not very funny for people who have been treated like the butt end of a joke. And for men who have been treated as toxic dimwits, the joke probably falls flat.
- For a full Barbie film critique from both a Christian and a conservative perspective, see the Alisa Childers Podcast, Episode #209, “Barbie Movie: Female Empowerment or Toxic Femininity?,” July 30, 2023, https://blubrry.com/the_alisa_childers/111111927/209-barbie-movie-female-empowerment-or-toxic-femininity/.
- I’m paraphrasing Lewis, see Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” 69.
- Barbie, written by Gerwig and Baumbach.
- See Isaiah 14:14, 29:16; Jeremiah 18:5–11; Romans 9:19–22.
- Isn’t that what humans wish God would say? It’s essentially what secularism and Progressive Christianity currently teach.
- Billie Eilish, “What Was I Made For?” [From the motion picture Barbie], from Billie Eilish album: What Was I Made For? © 2023 Darkroom/Interscope Records.
- Strangely, men are rarely included in these scenes, but suffice it to say that we are positive that men were involved in the process.
- Jessica Wang, “‘Barbie’s Moving Montage Features Real Women from the Lives of Cast and Crew,” Entertainment Weekly, July 24, 2023, https://ew.com/movies/barbie-montage-explained-real-women/.
- Purple nurples are when boys grab each other’s nipples and twist. You will never see girls playing this game.
- Fantasy rules would be like “animals can talk or understand you” (Snow White or the horse from The NeverEnding Story), fish can breathe outside of water (The Little Mermaid), or the bad guys usually have terrible aim unless it advances the plot (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, a ton of other movies). Fantasy rules are made-up norms that audiences will grant as long as they remain consistent throughout the movie.
- This is not to say that no boys will play caretaker with a doll or that no girls will play war with a bunch of figurines. But in general, this is how boys and girls play differently.
- This is explicitly stated by the narrator. Barbie, written by Gerwig and Baumbach.