Barbie, the review: it is not a film for children

Poster for the movie "Barbie"

Even in the cinemas of Bologna, girls (and not) lined up in pink. But the criticism of patriarchy (and of feminism) should be interpreted by re-reading the plot backwards, helping the little ones to understand

In line, who for popcorn who for candies, who in total pink who with only a pink accessory. Even Bologna, by now the Italian city of cinema as well as of the film library, is not immune to the charm of Barbie, the film by Greta Gerwig which in just two weeks has broken through the wall of one billion dollars in takings. Inside this army of girls and teenagers, adult women and mothers there are also some males, mostly chaperones, some with the expression of those who would have preferred to stay on the curbstone waiting for Bartali. Yet Barbie is not a film for children, in the broadest sense, and the many little girls in any hall of any cinema in the city center had too many questions buzzing in their heads during the screening.

Spectacular cast for a busy and demanding film

Because despite the rouge in pink, the most famous doll business in the world and a spectacular cast headed by Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, Gerwig’s film is busy and demanding, it forces reflection, in the various reading levels it contains myth, philosophy and Freud and not only the over-quoted easter eggs – starting with the tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey – therefore it is advisable to see him with an open mind as much as his eyes, in order to help the very young understand. Starting with the criticism of patriarchy, which has infuriated Republicans in America. Barbie’s surface seems to define the stupid and arrogant man as the girls of Barbie-land take back power in their world, but the plot must be reversed to understand the complexity of Gerwig’s attack on patriarchy and feminism.

The transformation from doll/child to teenager and adult

The film forces women to make a decisive reflection on the fate of the path towards sacrosanct gender equality: in fact, Barbie regains power in the world of fantasy, that of dolls, where the Kens are – precisely – “only” Ken, to quote the movie tagline. But replacing the roles in Barbie-land, Gerwig recounts the rebellion of the Kens as feminism that has made an incomplete revolution, while in the real world the Barbies are the men who finally regroup and regain power, taking it away from women who have fallen into the trap of competition and litigation. It is a strong criticism, which spares no one, played on the subtle narrative device. And if Barbie therefore remains emptied of any identity, the second strand of the plot concerns precisely the transformation from doll/little girl – the world where everything is perfect, there are only smiles and sunny days – to a teenager and therefore an adult. Barbie becomes humanized, she admonishes the young spectators dressed in pink about the pains, the discomforts and the brutishness of the body and soul. “Barbie’s Death Wish Barbie” — the film’s mock doll design — isn’t desperate for cellulite. So it is Barbie who takes the girls by the hand again in the cinema, after having told them, starting in 1959, that they could become whatever they wanted. Once emancipation could pass through the channel of the imagination, today it cannot be deprived of inner awareness.

Arm wrestling between myth and enlightenment

Accompanying Barbie on this journey into darkness is the key character of the film, «Weird Barbie», in English «Weird Barbie». Weird like William Shakespeare’s weird witches, the old women who know Macbeth’s fate, the Fates of Greek culture. The storyline of this Barbie, in the film, is drenched in myth, represents the destiny from which no one can escape – not even the most stereotypical doll in history – and is opposed to the role of Mattel managers, who live the material culture. After all, that cultural approach derives from the Enlightenment, from the contemporary life model, also criticized for being patriarchal and certainly for being utilitarian. “Weird Barbie” inhabits a subconscious and throws her friend into this world, where she could emancipate herself from men who do everything to prevent her but where, when we believe she may have become the new director, we discover that she had “only” an appointment at the gynecologist. In this tug-of-war between myth and the Enlightenment there is the realization of a warning already dear to Herbert Marcuse and the people of Frankfurt: Mattel, which is the manufacturer of Barbie, is inside cultural criticism, digests it, and makes all this normal. But is it over here? No, Barbie is just a stage on the path to equality. Adults have the task of explaining it to boys and girls, so that it doesn’t remain a phenomenon of emulation in pink to be re-proposed at carnival or for Halloween (remember how many Wednesdays went around the street?). The “why” whispered in the room deserve an answer.

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