People of all ages are out and about in various shades of pink, flocking to their local theaters to see Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling dance to Dua Lipa and get involved in some shenanigans. I was one of those eager patrons, planning my outfit days in advance and avoiding spoilers like the plague to participate in the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon.
“Barbenheimer” is an amalgamation of the Internet’s making, merging “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” together after it was revealed that both films would come out on July 21—an event that hasn’t occurred since the dichotomous “Mamma Mia” and “The Dark Knight” premiered together on July 18, 2008. Christopher Nolan is doing something right! Feel free to spend some of your quality time exploring the very real Wikipedia page about it.
While “Oppenheimer” is an incredible film that is sure to win many awards, I am going to focus on the “Barbie” portion of the portmanteau. It was a box office hit! According to Deadline, “Barbie” had “the best domestic start for a movie helmed by a female director, with $155M.”
The “Barbie” movie emulates the hot pink and overstimulating toy aisle at your local Target or Walmart, and includes the iconic Barbie Dreamhouse, pink Corvette, and introduces us to all our favorite Barbies.
I was tickled to discover that one of my favorite Barbies to play with growing up was included in the movie—the incredibly weird “Happy Family Pregnant Midge & Baby” that was discontinued after parents complained that removable stomachs with tiny plastic babies inside were a tad too body horror for their kids. Oh, well.
Even though the new movie is a comedy, many viewers took to social media to express surprise at how “Barbie” went deeper than surface level, touching on thoughts of death, strained mother-daughter relationships, patriarchy, identity crises, and what it is like to be a woman.
As a Greta Gerwig fan, this didn’t surprise me at all. The accomplished director has used these themes in previous films like “Lady Bird” and her adaptation of “Little Women” in 2019. What did surprise me about “Barbie” was the biblical parallels.
Gerwig, co-writer and director of “Barbie,” revealed in an interview with Vogue that she was partially inspired by the Adam and Eve story in Genesis when writing the script.
“Barbie was invented first,” she said. “Ken was invented after Barbie, to burnish Barbie’s position in our eyes and in the world. That kind of creation myth is the opposite of the creation myth in Genesis.”
In the beginning, “stereotypical Barbie,” played by Robbie, exclaims, “Do you guys ever think about dying?” while dancing it up with her friends. This sudden shift causes a rift between Barbieland and The Real World.
When “Weird Barbie,” played by Kate McKinnon, offers the fruit of knowledge (the Birkenstock shoe) in the Garden of Eden (Barbieland), Barbie becomes self-conscious in The Real World: feeling embarrassed, anxious, and “ill at ease.” On the other hand, Ken feels empowered and respected for the first time when he realizes that “men rule the world!”
“I feel admired, but not ogled. And there’s no threat of violence,” Ken said as he rollerbladed through Venice Beach.
“Mine very much has the threat of violence,” replied Barbie, eyeing the group of men catcalling her on the street.
Our trusted narrator, Helen Mirren, states at the beginning of the film that Barbies think all issues of feminism and equal rights have been solved simply because they were created.
Barbie’s belief system is totally shattered when she arrives in Los Angeles and realizes that the Barbies have not made life better for women in The Real World. In fact, many young girls hate her.
Ken has an identity crisis of his own when he discovers patriarchy (and also horses) and decides to introduce the ideology to the other Kens living in Barbieland.
While Barbie is in The Real World, she meets Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie, in the Mattel Headquarters. In their first scene together, Gerwig includes a subtle recreation of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” when Handler offers Barbie a cup of tea. Their hands are in the same formation as the iconic painting in the Sistine Chapel for a quick frame. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Those small touches add depth to a film that many might have anticipated to be a shallow movie about a kid’s toy. At its core, the “Barbie” movie is a celebration of women.
“Barbie” asks its viewers a seminal question through one of the movie’s original songs, “What Was I Made For?’— a track performed by Billie Eilish.
The song is woven into the score and then played in full over a montage of real footage of the family and friends of the movie’s cast and crew: mothers playing with their kids, toddlers running in the grass, a young woman getting married, a loved one graduating, friends laughing, a sister celebrating a birthday, and grandmothers dancing with broad smiles on their faces.
“The Bible is a lot like Barbieland. Both are full of complicated, often misunderstood women. And both Gerwig’s Genesis story and the Bible push us to question: ‘What does it mean to be a woman?,’” writes Olivia Bardo for Sojourners.
In her 73 Questions interview with Vogue, Gerwig expressed interest in the Bible, saying she’d love to tell those popular stories from the perspective of women. But for now, we can look forward to Gerwig’s next project: a new film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ iconic series, The Chronicles of Narnia for Netflix.
“Barbie” is a must-see movie that promises plenty of laughs and a great soundtrack, but it also offers serious moments of reflection that make for good conversation afterwards. You won’t be able to forget America Ferrera’s incredible monologue about what it means to be a woman in our world today. You may want to throw out an “Amen” or two in the theater:
“You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood…
I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.”
Note: “Barbie” is rated PG-13 for suggestive references and brief language. Movie trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBk4NYhWNMM
Creative coordinator for publishing and marketing at Good Faith Media. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Missouri Southern State University and her Associate of Arts degree from Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri. Chisholm was an Ernest C. Hynds Jr. intern with GFM for the summer of 2021.