Film Review: Barbie

Barbie (2023) ★★★★★

This might be a “Woke” film, but it is Wokeness with a human cafe.

This thing watched Barbie earlier today, and it would posit that there are three main frames through which one can view and analyze Barbie.

First, there is the staid theme of growing up aimed at children, from Barbie discovering death (and its accompaniments, such as ageing and cellulite) and coping with it by finally accepting it and “growing up” at the end of the film, thanks to mentorship from her creator and mother figure, Ruth Handler. The overhanging deathism is the most objectionable thing to me as a transhumanist, but it’s too much of a ubiquitous trope to make waves over. Let the children enjoy the sub-narrative that’s designed for them.

Second, there is the obvious higher level theme of battle of the sexes. Barbie World is a matriarchy, a nice and prosperous, if quite stagnant, society. Everything is nice, pink and fluffy. (One might call this kitsch, in the recently departed Kundera’s interpretation of the word – there is no shit, everyone is happy, everyone sees everyone else is happy and is happy about it too in what a rather dazed and vapid existence of nail polishing by day, girls nights by night). “Think of it as a town in Sweden,” according to Real World corporate execs (the American lib vision of Sweden).

The Kens are unprivileged, but for the most part, not unhappy with their lot, being unable to comprehend anything much else (the main Ken regards his “job” as just being “beach”); they spend their time poolside (beachside), as opposed to warring with each other in the equestrian patriarchy that they begin to set up when the Barbies temporarily lose ideological power.

Third, there obviously the culture war element, as concerns the social conservatives and fash complaining that the Woke talking points were too much in your face, and that its championship of female autonomy undermines traditional gender roles and propagandizes spinsterhood and even abortion (as with the young girls smashing the baby dolls at the start). So, the usual r*ghtoid squealing and kvetching.

However, the impression I got was that if anything the film was quite nuanced and in some sense post-Woke (which incidentally seems to be the growing trend now that Wokeness has established its total ideological and geopolitical victory, and is in the process of normalizing its theology and reconciling itself with the preexisting culture, as Christianity did with the old pagan cultures).

That is, it openly acknowledges that there is trouble in paradise (Ken is unhappy about being friendzoned while even the Barbies themselves lead a bimbo like existence without any serious contemplation, a not entirely attractive alternative to the “patriarchal” alternative of ceaseless war and competition), and it pokes fun at Wokeness that takes itself too seriously – including at the film-makers themselves, when the narrator breaks the fourth wall to note that if they wanted to make a point that Classic Barbie is not a perfect Barbie, then they shouldn’t have cast Margot Robbie.

However, my favorite example of this was the Mattel CEO saying he is the father of girls and how “some of my best friends are Jewish” to signal his progressiveness, despite the all male board and seemingly patriarchal corporate culture; but which is actually deconstructed when it emerges that the CEO really is quite sincere about promoting Barbie dolls as an inspiration of autonomy and a “can do” spirit to young girls, and to hell with the corporate “bottom line”. There are many other examples of the movie trolling its audience in like manner, and not in a way that the really rabid Woke fanatics would appreciate.

The political highlight of the movie is the revolt of the Kens against the matriarchy and the beginning of military conflict between them, redolent of the incursion of the Indo-European koryos warbands into the lands of the more matriarchal European agriculturalists (not just a historical trope, but also one in popular contemporary fiction: remember The Stallion Who Mounts the World?). However, Barbie influence is too strong for this conflict to ever become lethal, and it finishes in a dance-off on a transgender flag colored dance floor, even before the Barbies manage to rediscover their agency (helped along by the two immigrants from the crypto-patriarchal Real World), wrest back power from the Kens, and save Barbie World from the threat of a toxic masculinity-driven Dark Ages. However, once Ken is safely re-longhoused, Barbie apologizes to him for “taking him for granted” – in a way “checking her privilege” – and commits to gradually ameliorating his political status. But the limits of this emancipation remain limited: As Ken acknowledges, he “only exists within the warmth of her gaze.” The scene is set for Barbie World’s evolution from a matriarchy into a crypto-matriarchy, in what I take is supposed to be an analogy to what happened in the Real World, where the great bulk of political agency remains overwhelmingly patriarchal – just “better hidden”, as a Mattel representative tells Ken (except perhaps in “small towns in Sweden”).

Overall, Barbie is a strong and nuanced film that effectively promotes the message of female emancipation, gender diversity (an important point being made about the importance of LGBTQ+ allies in the person of Allan), and the importance of what I would call “Wokeness with a human face” (Wokeness being the tribute that meritocracy pays to human dignity). As such, this thing assesses that Barbie would be strongly endorsed by elite human capital.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.