Barbie, the global sensation, has been lauded for its existential themes and treatment of patriarchy, identity, and feminism. But Stephanie Garcia challenges the applause. Looking at the film through the lens of Simone De Beauvoir she argues that the film falls short of an existential masterpiece.
"Do you guys ever think about dying?" A single line that seemed to beckon a wave of accolades touting "Barbie" as an existentialist movie for our age. Yet, behind the trailer lies a film that teeters on the edge of pseudo-philosophical exploration, with its existential and feminist themes. “Barbie” appears no more than a thinly veiled veneer atop a commodity-driven toy-selling narrative. And on reflection can it live up to the existentialist feminist thought of Simone de Beauvoir, an existentialist thinker whose seminal work “The Second Sex” offers a healthy riposte to a surface-level exploration of feminism?
Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of women's struggle is a cornerstone of her feminist philosophy, particularly articulated in her seminal work "The Second Sex." She examines how women have historically been marginalized, objectified, and relegated to secondary roles in society. De Beauvoir asserts that women's social status as the "Other" has been perpetuated by a male-dominated culture that defines them primarily in relation to men.
In the midst of reviews from GQ to The Guardian, which pay homage to supposed nods to existentialist classics like "The Matrix" and "The Truman Show," the film "Barbie" manages to raise intriguing questions. However, amidst the backdrop of existentialist musings and nods to feminism, it is necessary to undertake a rigorous critique of the film's thematic analysis and its attempts to address the foundational tenets of existentialism and Simone de Beauvoir's feminist theory. Are we truly witnessing a profound intersection, or are we merely toying with shallow associations? Is Barbie "Simone-enough”?
The film endeavours to traverse the realms of existential dread and the quest for self-identity, a terrain well-trodden by existentialist thinkers. Yet, the existentialism of De Beauvoir thrives on the pursuit of authenticity and personal responsibility, a dimension the film struggles to effectively capture. Simone de Beauvoir, an existentialist feminist giant, advocated for the navigation of ambiguity and self-definition. Alas, the characters within the film seem to dabble in existential unease without truly confronting the depths of individuality. The purported existential crisis of Barbie pales in significance when compared to the overarching existential anguish experienced by Gloria, the real hero of the film, painting a distorted picture of existential introspection.
The film's connection between Barbie's existential inquiry and Gloria's tumultuous journey raises questions about the film's earnestness in grappling with the philosophical narrative it endeavours to portray. The metamorphosis from a stereotypical Barbie grappling with her existence to a realization of her desire for emotions echoes the superficial portrayal of existential angst rather than its profound exploration.
The film's endeavours to mirror the trajectory of Barbie's awakening with women's emancipation rings hollow
"Barbie" falls prey to the trap of reductive literalism, particularly when juxtaposed with Simone de Beauvoir's nuanced analysis of women's struggles. De Beauvoir's magnum opus "The Second Sex" dissected the systematic marginalization, objectification, and subordination of women across history. Her exploration of the 'Othering' of women within a male-dominated culture dismantled notions of innate inferiority, emphasizing that womanhood is constructed through societal and cultural lenses.
The film's endeavours to mirror the trajectory of Barbie's awakening with women's emancipation rings hollow when compared to de Beauvoir's intricate depiction. The portrayal lacks the emotional intricacies, societal context, and empowerment that encapsulates de Beauvoir's work, rendering it a diluted reflection rather than a profound parallel.
De Beauvoir's feminism derived its potency from a critique of the 'Other' status assigned to women, a stark contrast to the film's superficial dip into the complexities of patriarchy and oppression. The film introduces notions of societal inequalities but merely scratches the surface, foregoing an opportunity to engage with the depth of women's struggles as advocated by de Beauvoir.
The film's narrative also dances on the periphery of autonomy, a core tenet of de Beauvoir's feminist philosophy. The character of Ken, a vehicle to explore newfound choices and gendered expectations, unfortunately, remains a shallow rendering in the face of de Beauvoir's robust advocacy for women's autonomy and liberation from preconceived roles. The rise of Patriarchy in the Barbie-verse ends with a similar situation to the one we now face. With movement being made and the future uncertain with patriarchy still baked into our society.
She calls for women to recognize their own subjectivity and to strive for self-definition outside of the roles assigned to them by society.
Throughout her work, de Beauvoir emphasizes the importance of women asserting their autonomy and transcending the limitations imposed upon them. She calls for women to recognize their own subjectivity and to strive for self-definition outside of the roles assigned to them by society. De Beauvoir's analysis of women's struggle serves as a foundational framework for understanding the structural and cultural barriers that women have faced and continue to confront in their pursuit of equality and liberation. The characters of Sasha and Gloria are underutilized, serving as mere vehicles to channel feminist rhetoric without providing the necessary depth to truly engage with their experiences. Perhaps the promised sequels will deal with this gap, however, as a starting point, there is much room for improvement in the balancing act of showing patriarchy and having characters in a children’s film well-rounded enough to address it.
Existentialism stresses the individual's freedom to choose and create meaning in their life. De Beauvoir argued that women must assert their autonomy and break free from traditional roles. Ken's struggle with newfound choices, could be further discussed in the context of autonomy and the gendered expectations that both Barbie and Ken confront. Again, leaving room for improvement. This an unfortunate state of affairs given the reach the film has and the impact it seems to be having on culture. Perhaps future developments of the franchise will answer my worries. Or at least begin to address the concerns raised above.
In summation, while the film dabbles in existential and feminist themes, it lacks the commitment to delve into the deep complexities. The interplay between existentialism and feminism remains tepid, and its alignment with the philosophies of feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir fails to resonate on a substantial level. The film, while serving as an entry point for dialogue, hardly scratches the surface of existential authenticity and feminist emancipation. The grand aspirations to intertwine Barbie's evolution with existential and feminist discourses remain a facade of depth, leaving critical observers desiring a more meaningful exploration of these intellectual landscapes.