The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] ‘Barbie’ lets you be you

By Kim Da-sol

Published : July 29, 2023 - 16:01

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“Barbie” (Warner Bros. Pictures) “Barbie” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In Margot Robbie’s latest film, “Barbie,” a story about one of the world’s most popular dolls -- which has in the past represented a stereotype of the perfect woman -- the message is clear throughout the 114-minute-long running time: “You can become whoever you want to be.”

In the seemingly perfect world of Barbie Land, Barbie (Margot Robbie) discovers a crack in the portal that connects Barbie Land with the real world after noticing that her day didn’t begin as perfectly as usual. Her toast comes out burnt and her shower is too hot. Last but not least, she discovers that she has stopped walking on her tiptoes.

Wanting to figure out what exactly has happened, Barbie decides to visit the one who plays her in the real world with Ken (Ryan Gosling) unexpectedly joining her on the adventure. In the human world, they meet an employee of Barbie doll manufacturer Mattel, Gloria (America Ferrera).

Having believed for her whole life that Barbie encouraged women around the world to be bold and powerful since the dolls first came out in 1959, she discovers that the real world is, in fact, treats women in the opposite way. Barbie is astounded by the male-dominant hierarchies that pervade the real world and how society has led to the manipulation of women’s bodies and appearances through the commercialization of sex.

Meanwhile, Ken ironically realizes that men like himself can benefit from a patriarchally organized society and so attempts to bring patriarchy back to Barbie Land.

Each scene in the movie shows Barbie’s repeated disappointment in the world that she has not known deeply enough. As if reminding the audience for having continued to live with no clear acknowledgement of these problems, Barbie keeps pointing out what is problematic about the real world.

However, in the end, she learns that all those indeed wrong aspects of society are also part of who Barbie is -- as well as who we are. With Gloria, Barbie clearly teaches the audience how male-dominated society has oppressed women and made them take on passive attitudes.

But rather than simply listing all that is wrong with our current world, the film has Barbie figuring out that despite such weaknesses, Barbie is still the best version of herself. Because everyone is imperfect, each individual is beautiful in their own way and perfect in a unique way.

“All of these women are Barbie and Barbie is all of these women,” said film director Greta Gerwig at a press conference in Seoul earlier this month.

Barbie dolls today come in a wider range -- such as a “President Barbie” -- than in the past, representing wider possibilities for women in 2023. This is a change from points in the past when Barbie dolls fueled criticism for presenting an unrealistic body image for women, leading to low self-esteem in girls.

Some viewers may experience fatigue over Barbie’s “you can do anything” and “you are perfect as you are” messages throughout the film. It may sometimes feel like watching a very pink promotional campaign video.

Margot Robbie said in a press conference held in Seoul on July 3 that “Barbie” is based on feminism and a “humanist movie.”

But perhaps in keeping with the contradictory doll herself, the delivery may come across as a tad blunt for some.

“Barbie” opened in local theaters on July 19.

Poster for “Barbie” (Warner Bros. Pictures) Poster for “Barbie” (Warner Bros. Pictures)