by Angela Starita
Before I’d seen “Barbie,” my sister told me she’d liked it but hated the last scene, which she went on to describe. Oblivious to the concept of “spoiler alerts,” she spoke with considerable disgust about the lunacy of a doll who lived in a perfect world of clothes, sparkling beaches, and dance parties choosing to become a human woman. It didn’t make sense. And of all places to end this witty homage to MGM technicolor—a gynecologist’s office?! Such a disappointment, and utterly illogical. Mysterious even.
This was the tenor of her review, minor outrage on the part of a doll we’d both loved. Even though we’re eight years apart in age, we’d played with some of the same dolls when I had inherited hers, a brown-haired Barbie with a bouffant and a Francie doll, her small-breasted friend who sported a blond flip do. I got the white carrying case too and whatever clothes Jeanette had collected. Under my tenure, the Barbie world grew exponentially and entered the 1970s. I made a town for her in the space under the steps going into our basement. Its central feature was the three-story town house where my main doll, Malibu Barbie, a blond with a deep tan, lived. The others had various apartments around town and the gang would travel around the country in Barbie’s camper. I wasn’t allowed to have a Ken doll, so if a romantic plot line ensued, another Barbie would temporarily take the trouser role for a heated make-out scene.
When I did finally see the movie, I found it surprisingly moving, tearing up when Barbie realizes she has to leave Barbieland, that in fact, she’s stopped being a doll. I suppose that when she chose to end the movie at a doctor’s office, Greta Gerwig had in mind the start of adolescence and the painful end of childhood. But I also wonder if she had remembered a late scene in The Bell Jar when Esther gets fitted for a diaphragm. It’s a moment of power for a character who for much of the book feels utterly defenseless. For me, at least, the final scene of Barbie had much the same tone, the melancholy of saying goodbye.
So why my sister’s strong reaction to this moment of female manifestation? I’m torn between two theories, though I’d guess the answer is some combination. Read more »