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Theme: Barbie’s Odyssey

     Raking in one hundred and fifty-five million on opening weekend and surpassing the one-billion-dollar mark in record breaking time, Warner Brothers’ Barbie; a live action fantasy adventure based on the famous Mattel doll, has stunned audiences and critics alike. Under the very gifted direction of Greta Gerwig who co-wrote the hilarious poignant screenplay with partner, Noah Baumbach, Barbie has become nothing less than a phenomenon. This movie about a toy doll will be talked about, discussed, analyzed, and studied by different people in different venues for different reasons for a long time to come.

Werner Jaeger in his classic work Paideia wrote:

“Art has a limitless power of converting the human soul---a power which the Greeks called psychgogia for art alone possess the two essentials of educational influences----universal significance and immediate appeal”.1

Barbie has both.


     In classic story telling structure “The Hook” is the first beat of the story and its purpose is to kick off the story and, more importantly, grab the audience’s interest and reel them in. The opening scenes of Barbie do far more; they send moviegoers into orbit.2

     By creating a clever parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, the “backstory” is told by a narrator of how prior to Barbie’s creation little girls had only baby dolls to play with, meaning their single role in life was that of mother. When the monolith Barbie appeared on the scene, little girls smashed their dolls and an evolution as momentous as apes becoming humans took place.

Before moving on to Barbieland, two cautionary comments about this opening are necessary to make; both involve words. In an article about the definition of the word monolith, a warning is issued:

“The word monolith is also used in the figurative sense when discussing all varieties of something as if they were one unified thing. Often, we warn against oversimplifying ideas by acting as if there was one single monolith that acts as a unifier when in reality no such thing exists.”3

Thus, the very notion of a “stereotypical” Barbie being a symbolic unifier for all women is false. A stereotype is by its own definition a widely held but fixed idea of a particular type of person or thing.

     Second, by her use of 2001 A Space Odyssey, Gerwig introduces the idea of Barbie’s adventure being an odyssey of heroic proportions. She will go on a spiritual quest to find out who she is and where she belongs. More than an escape from the egotistical self and false plastic world, Barbie’s Odyssey is the story of anagennese (rebirth) and nostos (return home). No wonder it has such “universal significance” and “immediate appeal”.     

Pink Perfection

Lizzo’s song Pink introduces the audience to Barbie’s world:

“When I wake up in my own pink world, I get outta bed and wave to my homegirls” (vs.1)

Yes, Stereotypical Barbie (Margo Robbie) has a world filled with women created in her image, all grown up and able to run this matriarchal pink world. Pink stands for:

P Pretty

I Intelligent

N Never Sad

K Cool

This utopia has pink houses, cars, airplanes, rockets, court rooms, ambulances, everything; the real world has only pink.

     There is Ken (Ryan Gosling), a male doll with his cohort of his image bearers and one Alan, they are subordinate to Barbie. Their existence is really to “do beach” and adore Barbie; after all, it is only a great day if Barbie looks at Ken.

     The “inciting incident” which propels Barbie out of Barbieland begins one evening while she is disco dancing the night away with her homegirls. A thought comes to mind, and she asks, “Do you ever think about dying”? The music abruptly stops, and confusion covers her face. How could a thought of death enter her pink perfect self or world? Where could such a thought come from?

     The next day the irrepressible thoughts of death appear in other signs of decay; sleeping late, cold water, burnt toast, expired milk, bad breath, falling and most embarrassing - flat feet. Stereotypical Barbie suddenly has flaws, this requires a visit to Weird Barbie who gives her the unfortunate news. A portal has opened to the Real World and Barbie has no choice (Birkenstocks not Pumps) but to venture there and fix it herself.

The Real World

      From the moment she roller blades her way into the Real-World Barbie recognizes she is in alien territory. Expecting adulation and recognition, she instead receives leering looks and mockery. This world is dark, drab, and very masculine. Barbie feels self-conscious for the first time, while Ken who has accompanied her, suddenly feels admired. They are in a world where everything is reversed.

    As they go their separate ways little do they know this is the last time they will be Barbie and Ken. Discovering the world of patriarchy and macho masculinity, Ken has his own 2001 moment . . . when he sees megaliths not just a monolith . . .  Mt. Rushmore, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Clinton, John Travolta, horses, golf, sports, money. Discovering he is unqualified for a job in the Real World, he grabs some books, a fur coat, and heads back to Barbieland to indoctrinate the Kens and plan a coup. 

     While Ken has been off exploring, Barbie has found a quiet spot on a park bench to close her eyes and think about finding the person Weird Barbie told her she needed to find. Images of a child, a mother, a daughter, and a box of old Barbies fill her thoughts and then quite suddenly and most astonishingly her eye has a tear. Feeling achy but good she opens her eyes and looks around and sees a creation filled with life . . .  people playing, birds singing, and trees waving. Turning to an elderly woman sitting next to her on the bench she says, “You’re so beautiful” and the woman non-pulsed replies, “I know it” and they both laugh. Barbie is experiencing for the first time the beauty of Life and the goodness of Creation, but as her odyssey continues, she will also experience its brokenness.

    She will meet Gloria, the woman whose “Irrepressible thoughts of death” created the rip between their worlds, she will experience the pain of broken relationships when she meets Gloria’s embittered daughter Sasha. She will feel the sting of vile names like Jezebel flung at her when she is told to get “back in the box”. She will see the real plasticity and male dominance of the corporate world from which she originated. However, all of this will be tempered by a few moments with a small woman in a safe place over a cup of tea, who tells her she is alright and shows her a way out.

Death of An Idea

     Barbie returns to Barbieland with Gloria and Sasha to repair the rip between worlds, only to find Ken has been successful in reversing the order and making it Kenland. What ensues is a war between the sexes, the arrival of men in suits from Mattel and cathartic moments for Barbie and Ken.

     The thematic lie which is the foundation of Barbieland and Kenland originated with the materialistic world which created them. In that world there is always a pyramid of power, in this case Mattel, selling an idea that will supposedly make one rich, glamourous, and successful. For in the plastic worlds, they create there is no life, no death, no beauty, no meaning, only false “stereotypical” ideas to arouse appetites of hunger creating markets for their products. The landfills and oceans of Earth are filled with their broken promises.

     Barbie tasted “life” in the Real World. Her moments on the bench awakened in her a hunger for something more meaningful than the existence she once had whatever it was. Returning to Barbieland she has an existential crisis, falling on her face empty and stripped, the idea she was, has to die in order for her to become who she was truly created to be.

    Barbie’s creator wasn’t Mattel; it was Ruth Handler, the diminutive woman who gave her a cup of tea. Greta Gerwig got the idea for their hands in that scene from Michaelangelo’s painting of God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Just as God created Adam to be his fully alive image bearer (Genesis 2:7), Ruth created Barbie to bear the image of her daughter, Barbara Handler. Stereotypical Barbie was not her idea, it was Mattel’s; a thing which could be replicated, mass produced and marketed all over the world.

Home and Belonging

     The beautiful end scenes of Barbie capture the Biblical truth of Rebirth and Return Home. After “death” Barbie needs a new kind of life and so Ruth, her creator arrives, to walk with her, take her hand, and impart to her the very breath of Life (John 20:22). Barbie returns home and receives a new name, a new physical body, and a new spirit. She can love, for she has been given a new heart, symbolized by the necklace she wears. Now with her odyssey complete, the adventure of real Life begins.



  1. Homer’s Odyssey as Spiritual Quest Anthologia 20 October 2020
  2. The Power of Chiastic Story Structure KM Weiland
  3. Monolith vs. Megalith What’s the Difference Dictionary .com

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