Utopias and Dystopias: Barbie Movie Review

Ivy Geyman

Contributing Writer 

The 2023 release of Barbie emerges as a remarkable testament to the evolution of womanhood and feminism in film. Inspired by the iconic Barbie, this movie transcends mere nostalgia to deliver a powerful narrative that champions individuality and empowerment. Through the lens of utopian and dystopian ideals, it offers a vivid portrayal of what it means to be a woman in today’s complex society, shedding light on the transformation from childhood to adulthood through Barbie’s perspective. 

As the narrative unfolds, Barbie skillfully navigates between these utopian (Barbieland) and dystopian (the real world) landscapes, creating a poignant commentary on the dichotomy of women’s experiences today. It prompts viewers to question the boundaries imposed by society and challenges them to redefine the essence of womanhood in a world that’s still striving for equality. This film is not just a cinematic experience; it’s a profound social commentary that encapsulates the ongoing journey of women in their pursuit of self-discovery and empowerment.

The writer and director of Barbie, Greta Gerwig, skillfully interweaves elements of utopian and dystopian realms, epitomized through the vivid creation of Barbieland and the Real World. Gerwig explores complex societal themes through these settings, offers a nuanced narrative that reflects the utopian aspirations and dystopian pitfalls inherent in contemporary culture and human aspirations. The characters in the Real World grapple with the harsh realities and imperfections of human existence. This thematic exploration invites viewers to reflect on the balance between our pursuit of utopian ideals and the potential consequences of ignoring the complexities of reality. 

Barbieland is an idealized space, meaning Gerwig created each Barbie to be in the mindset of the individual playing with the doll. Through this imagination, Barbies are living seemingly perfect lives. In Barbieland, everyone is assigned a specific job and lifestyle, and each individual (doll) in Barbieland has a sense of nativity. (For any philosophy nerds, this can all be demonstrated in Plato’s Republic). Gerwig’s intricate attention to detail extends beyond the surface, permeating even the tiniest aspects of life in Barbieland.

Each Barbie’s idyllic lifestyle is meticulously designed to foster a sense of harmony and contentment, where even the most mundane activities are transformed into moments of blissful serenity.

The film immerses itself in the dystopian facets of the Real World, serving as a mirror to women’s enduring trials and tribulations in today’s society. In a sudden twist, Barbie grapples with thoughts of death, a thought from her real-world owner. Gloria, compelled by a melancholic nostalgia, finds solace in playing with the Barbie doll as Sasha (her child) grows from her adolescence. These thoughts of death cause Barbie’s feet to flatten, spoil her breakfast, and uncover cellulite. The intrusion of reality pierces the illusion of perfection, unveiling the unsettling undercurrents of a world where not everything is perfect. Through this discovery,  Stereotypical Barbie finds herself asking Weird Barbie for advice. This is when Barbie makes her journey to the Real World. 

Barbie soon realizes the Real World is nothing like Barbieland and is, in many ways, viewed as a dystopia for everyone except Ken. As soon as she arrives in the Real World, she is verbally and physically harassed, undermined, and seen as the stereotypical ideal of what is wrong with feminism in today’s society. 

Through Barbie’s transformation and encounters in the Real World, the film poignantly exposes the struggles and prejudices women continue to face today. It challenges the viewer to confront the pervasive stereotypes and biases that persist while also highlighting the strength and resilience required to navigate a world that often falls short of utopian ideals.

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