Like half the rest of the population, I went to see the Barbie film. Twice, actually. Once to see it and as I pondered it this post began to formulate in my mind, I realised that I needed to see it again for clarity on what I was thinking. Suffice to say I enjoyed it in the fluffiest and most feminist of ways and I found it provoking deeper thoughts around the role of women in society, as it was intended to do. That very naturally led to election in The Spiritual Exercises, and my own election that I made just before I did the Exercises and which was confirmed for me during them.
What about men? They make elections too. Let’s get that one out of the way before getting into it. There has been much commentary on social media about Ken and the place of the Ken’s in the movie. I’ve been exploring the spirituality of the Beguines recently and a man reassured me that there were male Beguines too. It’s the same point. In the patriarchal world in which we live, male is norm. Ken realised that patriarchy worked better for him and he wanted it and then actively sought to take over Barbieland. So in the spirit of The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed, I am putting the male norm on the shelf and focusing on how and where it might be different from the female perspective. Sure, you may be a male reading this post and finding similarities and common interests. I celebrate the Alan in you, and invite you to step into our frame of reference where female is norm. I’m not going to argue against the patriarchy, I’m simply taking the point of view that female is norm.
I’m not going to try to avoid spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen the film yet and you want to, you might want to stop reading at this point and come back later. I’ll leave that up to you.
In the film, Barbie experiences an existential crisis and her belief system crashes. She meets her creator twice and has what can be described as a colloquy about her choice for a way of life. She can no longer live as she did before and she makes her election. We see her begin to live it in the last scene.
I have to confess that I found the last scene disappointing and unsatisfying on my first viewing. I thought:
What exactly does that mean?Greta Gerwig addresses ‘mic-drop’ ending in Barbie movie
My eldest also didn’t appreciate the ending that much either. For me though, it was exactly the point because I was left questioning. I now think it is a very clever ending.
The journey towards the election, and it is represented as a journey, begins with unease, sadness and confusion. It’s a movement from a superficial eternity of perfection (a loaded word) and peace for Barbie to disturbance, conflict and the sense of not being good enough; a movement from a place where she is affirmed and loved to where she is surrounded by critical voices and people of dubious motive presenting themselves as having her best interests at heart. I’m thinking about Mattel as I say this. I didn’t like Mattel from the off and I found Barbie’s implicit trust of them a little disconcerting. It has taken me a while to unpack it. In spite of the pink shirt and tie on the CEO and the heart shaped conference table, the board were all men. Empowerment of girls was given lip service as it was stated explicitly:
What we are really about is sparkle.
They exemplified the conversation Ken had with one man in the real world:
You guys are not doing patriarchy very well.
To which the man replied:
We are. We are just hiding it better.
Barbie moves from trust in Mattel to mistrust as the men of the board try to persuade her to “get back in her box”, to be as they prescribe she should be. I was so pleased when she ran away from them. Here she was trusting the voice inside and recognising that there was something not quite right in the coercive behaviour of those who were supposedly looking out for her. As we grow more deeply in our own faith journey, whether we are at the beginning of a conversion experience or living with the consequences of our conversion, when the dust has begun to settle, we may find ourselves experiencing pressure from our loved ones to have things go back to the way they were before, for us to “get back in our box”. In the scene I have just described, Barbie is fairly near the beginning of her conversion process, but there is another scene towards the end of the movie, just before she definitively makes her election where Mattel, again, seek to define her by telling her that she is in love with Ken. Barbie denies it outright and looks to her Creator.
She first meets her creator when she runs away from Mattel and although she doesn’t recognise Her explicitly, she finds an oasis of peace in Her presence, and she trusts Her implicitly. Barbie is able to be her now imperfect self and her Creator helps her to escape from Mattel. It is in her next meeting with the Creator that Barbie makes her election. As I said earlier, she is unable to live as she did before: she cannot simply get back in her box. As a result of the journey she has made and the turmoil of spirits she has experienced, she is different, no longer stereotypical Barbie. So what does she do now? -my favourite bit – she takes a walk with her Creator and has a conversation. To me, she expresses the nature of The Election in the second week of the Spiritual Exercises beautifully. She says to her Creator:
Not someone I become, but who I discover I am.
In the introduction to the consideration of different states of life, St Ignatius closes with this paragraph:
Therefore, as some introduction to this, in the next exercise, let us consider the intention of Christ our Lord, and on the other hand, that of the enemy of our human nature. Let us also see how we ought to prepare ourselves to arrive at perfection in whatever state or way of life God our Lord may grant us to choose.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J .Puhl S.J.
In talking about being real meaning she will no longer be perfect and that mortality leads to death, the Creator tells Barbie that she could not let her make the choice without being fully aware of what it meant. Making an election in the second week of The Exercises immediately precedes the third week , where we walk with Jesus to His passion and death, contemplating the price of discipleship in the process. The result of the conversation with her Creator is that Barbie makes the election to become a real woman and the film ends with her making a visit to her gynaecologist, the implication being that she now has a full reproductive system. The symbolism in this final realisation is multi layered and coming at it from a culture war, gender politics perspective is not in my remit or area of expertise and it is a bitter battleground as far as I can tell from what I read or see on social media. Here I choose to remain consistent in my theme of my analysis of the Barbie movie in the context of the Spiritual Exercises and of the Election process within that context. Quite simply it represents to me that Barbie, after her journey and a deep conversation with her Creator, has made the life giving choice: she has stepped away from the misguided direction of those who would keep her as she always was; she has drawn inspiration from her friends who have supported and encouraged her in her journey and has committed to a new way of life, fully aware of the price of it.
I enjoyed this film because it is so much more than superficial pink and sparkle. It is a clever film that is multi faceted and multi levelled, and has something important to say whatever your perspective. In the true Ignatian tradition of God in all things, God is there too in that life changing colloquy as one friend speaks to another.