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“What Was I Made For?” Greta Gerwig’s Barbie Movie and Our False Anthropology

“Barbie is this emblem of plastic perfection…what better journey to give her than one that gives her humanity” said director Greta Gerwig as she described the appeal of her latest project, Barbie. This 2023 film that details the infinitely complex internal struggle of one of America’s most iconic plastic toys quickly became Warner Bros’ highest-grossing film of all time, but why? What message was the highly anticipated film sending to the world in a shimmering pink package?

Discovering what it means to be human, understanding one’s nature as gift is one of the most important and beautiful aspects of life’s journey. In fact, one’s acknowledgment of himself as “from the other” is arguably the most fundamental step in establishing a friendship with God and living out one’s nature as gift “for the other,” enabling him to live a rich and authentically human life. If such assertions hold true and Gerwig’s film “gives humanity” to an otherwise lifeless piece of plastic, why did I clutch the pit in my stomach as the credits rolled? Barbie gained her humanity.

By the end of the film, the once shiny toy was ready to embark on her brand-new journey as a human being. Shouldn’t I have been moved by this, or at the very least, happy for Barbie? Giving life to something, or rather someone, who feels lost and alone is a genuinely beautiful concept for a film, so why did I leave the theater so sad, maybe even angry? Perhaps it is because in Barbie Land, in the mind of Greta Gerwig, and in modern society, what it means to be human has been redefined to mean something completely different than what exists at the root of our nature.

At its most rudimentary level, Gerwig’s Barbie demonstrates concepts as beautiful as man’s universal cry for God, or one’s discovery of his own nature. Then, in a way that proves nearly invisible to the naked eye, the film reduces such striking experiences by placing them within the limits of a 21st-century individualistic anthropology.

Barbie as a Film

In order to recognize the ways in which such a beautiful storyline is limited by a false anthropology, one must begin by familiarizing himself with the basic plot elements of the film. The movie follows Stereotypical Barbie as she lives another perfect day alongside all the other Barbies in Barbie Land, a powerfully pink feminist utopia where the matriarchy reigns supreme, or, in the words of a frustrated Ken, a place where “Every night is girls’ night.” Therefore, the role of a Ken is virtually nonexistent. He lives not to support and work collaboratively with Barbie for the betterment of Barbie Land, but instead, to praise and impress her for his own personal benefit. His dignity is defined by the thoughts and actions of his female companion. As the narrator describes, “Ken only has a great day when Barbie looks at him.”  From the start, Barbie operates under the false premise that the inherent dignity of men and women is unequal, but this issue will be further addressed at a later point.

As the film continues to unfold, viewers watch all the Barbies gather to throw a choreographed dance party, but while the Barbies are enjoying the party, Stereotypical Barbie interrupts the sparkly euphoria as she asks a question universal to the human experience: “You guys ever think about dying?” Shocked, the Barbies freeze amidst complete silence. To avoid facing any real conflict, Stereotypical Barbie brushes off the question and continues to dance, but she isn’t able to distract herself from the question for long.

With such “irrepressible thoughts of death,” the next day, for Barbie, does not go off as smoothly as usual. Where she would usually float with ease, Barbie falls off the roof of her house. Furthermore, the doll’s perfectly pointed heels become completely flat, and, to the horror of any Barbie, she begins to develop cellulite.

Her grim thoughts and the moments that follow trigger an existential crisis for Barbie as she questions why she’s having these thoughts in the first place. In an effort to find a solution, Barbie, and Ken, who follows behind against her wishes, journey to The Real World to find the woman who has been playing with Stereotypical Barbie and end the player’s depressing thoughts once and for all. The thoughts of death and their tendency to disrupt an unassuming life are a completely natural, if not necessary, step in reflecting on one’s nature. When one encounters the beauty and joy of life, the mysteries of God in the world, he realizes that he’s not made for death, but for something greater—union with the other, union with God, or as pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes (18) explains:

It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter.

With these words in mind, one can see that the film created an incredibly unique opportunity to reveal something beautiful regarding the fact that man was made for more than a plastic existence followed by inevitable decay and eventual disappearance. Barbie’s situation provided the chance for the film to explain that every moment, no matter how frustrating some may feel, is infinitely charged with purpose and driven towards communion with The Other. In fact, throughout Barbie’s time in The Real World, a world much more nuanced and complicated than Barbie ever thought, moments of beauty and reflection do occur. For example, while trying to locate the woman who plays with her, Barbie finds a seat on a nearby bench. In a moment of silence, she begins to cry and slowly observes the world around her. She sees the simplicity of children at play, feels the tension of a couple fighting, and even chuckles with delight at the sight of someone else laughing.

Most notably, she turns to the elderly woman next to her, and, noticing the deep wrinkles in her face, Barbie says, “You’re so beautiful.” In a single scene, Barbie experiences a microcosm of the ups and downs of human life, but most importantly, the beauty that comes with those moments. Thus, her desire to uncover the mystery of who she is deepens even more. The inclusion of these experiences gives the movie a universal appeal. However, as the plot progresses, audiences discover that it is not what is learned in The Real World that causes a problem for Barbie and Ken, but rather what and who they choose to take back with them. When the two protagonists return to Barbie Land, the story arc that had the potential to be a raw and moving exploration of the human condition is sacrificed on the altar of a false anthropology.

The False Anthropology of Our Time

Audiences cannot understand how Barbie limits itself by a “false anthropology” without a thorough understanding of what the term means. Anthropology, or “the study of the human person and his relationship with others, the world around him, and God,” must be closely examined when one attempts to understand nature and the modern world. While anthropology serves as the basis of culture, it is also shaped by social and cultural movements. In short, in order to appropriately understand one’s culture, one must possess knowledge of anthropology. Similarly, in order to understand the established, accepted anthropology of his time, man needn’t look further than what is presented in mainstream culture. The relationship between the two concepts is reciprocal.

The notion above proves that anthropology, as it stands in relation to culture, is not determined at the individual level. Instead, it stems from a widely promoted concept or idea that bleeds into a culture. In the case of the 21st-century American West, patterns of thought, values, and actions have been characterized by an anthropology of individualism.

When one pictures “The American Dream,” a specific narrative comes to mind— “the narrative of the rugged individual.” This narrative encourages a line of thinking that shouts “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Be whoever and whatever you want to be. Reality exists as nothing more, or nothing less, than what you make it.” While the triumph of the human spirit can be inspiring, people must pay great attention to what this “Do it all by yourself” mentality gave birth to. “The narrative of the rugged individual” caused man to value one thing above all the others— progress. Although growth is important for mankind, the type of progress that the rugged individual values is one that nurtures a sense of radical self-interest. Rather than growing for the sake of the common good, such self-interested progress enlivened by enlightenment thinking causes man to, whether consciously or not, fool himself into thinking that he is his own end, that he can write his own destiny apart from any other external force, including his own human nature. Combine such a philosophy with industrial and technological progress, and one can easily observe that such personal growth became even less organic.

Today, in a world where technological progress is occurring at a faster rate than ever before, information that supports any argument can be found at the push of a button, packages, or even entire meals can be delivered in under an hour while the doors of our elaborate suburban homes can stay locked behind us, society has collectively resorted to a hedonistic individualism. Because personal pleasure and convenience are held at the forefront of society and the narrative of the rugged individual has whispered its way into each of our actions, mainstream culture is marked by a multiplicity of truths.

A culture that pushes one to “Do it in the name of progress,” while simultaneously emphasizing a voice that shouts, “Do whatever feels good, do whatever feels right for you, and if it doesn’t give you pleasure, it is not the answer.”

This anthropocentric, pleasure-filled progressivism has encouraged people to create their own “truths,” or in other words asks them to redefine reality to whatever makes them feel good. Furthermore, everyone’s “truth” must be accepted and validated by society. This multiplicity of truths has caused any sense of objectivity to become seemingly fluid, to dissolve into a sea of infinitely conflicting “truths.” With a public amnesia of objectivity, even something as fundamental as someone’s given human nature is under threat. As Dr. Theresa Farnan, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center explains (“The Crisis of Confidence in Truth and Meaning,” Faith and Reason in a Post-Truth Era (lecture, Benedictine College, September 16, 2023):

We have a new anthropology— a postmodern anthropology, an anthropology that is fitting for an age that has rejected reason entirely with the whole host of consequences ranging from rejecting the unity of the person, rejecting human nature, rejecting any idea that there’s any intrinsic meaning of the body, and the ultimate assertion that you as a person have the opportunity to create yourself.

This false anthropology of individualistic self-creation has caused man to forget his own giftedness, to forget who he was made from and what he was made for. It has led to a widespread culture of loneliness and isolation, or as Pope John Paul II expresses,

A certain positivist cast of mind continues to nurture the illusion that, thanks to scientific and technical progress, man and woman may live as a demiurge, single-handedly and completely taking charge of their destiny (Fides et Ratio, 91).

While legitimate human progress for the good of mankind cannot be dismissed, the detached atomistic need for control discussed above is profoundly inhuman. It could never exist as a satisfactory end of the human person. In fact, it directly contradicts what human beings were made to be. To discover this truth, one must read the words of Gaudium et Spes (32):

God did not create man for life in isolation, but for the formation of social unity, so also “it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.

As demonstrated, human beings are social creatures, made for a communion with one another that simultaneously reflects and leads to eternal communion with God. Therefore, such an individualistic anthropology is not only out of character for man, but it contradicts his nature. Being made in the image and likeness of God, all creatures are Trinitarian. In other words, just as the Son exists as an eternal giving to the Father and, likewise, the Father exists as an eternal begetting of the Son, man’s desires, his destiny, only comes into fullness through the reciprocal giving and receiving of himself to others (Eleventh Council of Toledo, 675 A.D.) He will only be truly satisfied if he actively chooses, with every day, to live as the gift he was created to be—

This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself (Gaudium et Spes, 24).

Knowing this information, it is easy to wonder how the messages in mainstream culture have evolved to stray so far from what aligns with human nature and true fulfillment, but one must remember that such prominent cultural developments did not simply occur overnight. Instead, as briefly mentioned above, individualistic anthropology began as a slow trickle that resulted from several cultural elements, including but not limited to, the advent of modern technology, the accessibility of effortless conveniences, the widespread delivery of impersonal and conflicting information through mass media, etc. As Catholic Women’s author Carrie Gress states (in The Anti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity (TAN Books, 2019), through a series of carefully crafted headlines and eye- catching, inspirational mantras,

Thousands of people helped craft and perpetuate these messages… The influence is so subtle yet so pervasive that even having a discussion on this topic can be difficult because we live under the impression that we are free thinkers.

In simple terms, the perpetuation and support of such false anthropology can occur before people are even aware of what they are promoting. As this essay will demonstrate, Gerwig’s Barbie stands as a cinematic victim to this lack of awareness as any opportunity for legitimately free thought is drowned out by the boldly pink dominance of an individualistic, 21st-century anthropology.

The Battle of the Barbies and the Kens

As previously established, the film’s beautifully intriguing plot is tragically reduced by an inhuman anthropology. However, this observation does not become apparent until Barbie returns to Barbie Land from The Real World. Barbie returns home alongside a woman and her daughter, the ones who played with her in The Real World, to show them the feminist utopia she comes from in an attempt to remedy their depressive thoughts and negative outlook on life. However, upon arrival, the trio discovers that the once thriving matriarchy has been converted into a glorified man cave where the patriarchy is loudly in control.

During his time in The Real World, Ken discovers the concept of patriarchy, where, in his words, “Basically everything exists to expand and elevate the presence of men.” Confused and appalled, Stereotypical Barbie watches as all of the other Barbies, including the president, suddenly exist as nothing more than scandalously dressed waitresses, present to cater to every whim of every Ken. While such treatment of women proves to be demeaning and unjust, viewers must also remember that Ken’s enthusiastic adoption of patriarchal ideology is only in response to unequal and disrespectful treatment of men. For instance, he constantly wants to be with Barbie, he knows the union with her is what he is made for. However, every time he tries to spend time with her, he is met with the same reply: “It’s Barbie’s Dreamhouse. It’s not Ken’s Dreamhouse.” In short, Ken’s actions are the result of a lifetime of mistreatment. Barbie’s treatment of Ken is incredibly unfair. However, it is also important to note that, in the same way, Ken’s retaliation against women is not correct either. Through Barbie and Ken’s actions, the film wisely proposes that both patriarchy and matriarchy fall short as sufficient forms of rule, but it never explains why. It fails to recognize the collaborative nature of women and men, and that they were made for, not against, each other. The conflict only makes room for one, either women or men.

Like much of today’s media, Barbie fails to see the beautifully mutual complementarity between women and men, that the two need the particular strengths of each sex. While discussing this truth, Pope John Paul II beautifully states:

[God] gave to man the womanhood of the woman who is of his kind, a “helpmate like unto him,” and also gave man to the woman. So, since the very beginning, man has been given to the other by God. If we read the text of Genesis carefully, we find in it the very beginning, as it were, of this giving. Woman is given to man so that he can understand himself, and reciprocally man is given to woman for the same end. They are to mutually affirm each other’s humanity, awed by its dual richness (“Meditation on Givenness” (Communio: International Catholic Review, 1994).

As explained by John Paul II, men and women have never been and never will be meant to be put against each other, but Barbie’s failure to acknowledge this aspect of reality is only among the first of its anthropological mistakes. In fact, the only solution that was actually attempted to cure the tension between Barbie and Ken stems from the current trends of radical feminism.

For instance, rather than attempting to effectively communicate with Ken about her emotions, about how his unfair actions made her feel, she yells at Ken, falls to the ground, and gives up, essentially complaining and acting as a victim. When explaining the culturally accepted trends of feminism, Carrie Gress points out:

Women are always victims. Men and masculinity must change… These basic ideas have become the very air of public discourse. When any are violated, matriarchs are quick to remind everyone that women are victims and throw a collective tantrum.

In the 21st century, living in a culture that has mostly forgotten their giftedness, women are often encouraged to throw a fit until they gain dominance over men. Feminist ideology teaches them to value themselves, to value “their personal truths,” over anything else even, if not especially, the common good. Not only do Barbie’s actions support such an ideology, but she is pulled out of the despair by means of further victimization.

While Barbie lies helplessly in the grass, Gloria, the woman who played with Stereotypical Barbie in The Real World, rather than offering a solution or reminding Barbie of her belovedness, goes on a two- and-a-half-minute tangent that details how “It is literally impossible to be a woman.” After the speech is done, one of the Barbies who was previously brainwashed by the patriarchy says,” It’s like I’ve been in a dream… but what you said broke me out of it.” In other words, the only effective way to call the Barbies to any sort of action is to bring attention to their own victimization, the violation of their “personal truths.”

In the next few moments following the monologue, the women devise a plan to restore matriarchal order by creating a sense of victimization in all the other Barbies throughout Barbie Land. While this “solution” alone is haunting, the first step in this plan is what proves most shocking. To begin the restoration of the matriarchy, Stereotypical Barbie exclaims, “We have to stop the Kens.”20 Another Barbie then asks the question, “But how are we gonna get the Barbies away from their Kens?” Although what the Kens were doing was inherently unmasculine due to the fact that they were taking advantage of the women, refusing to treat them with proper dignity, it is equally disturbing that the Barbies’ first instinct was not to communicate with the Kens or to reflect on the ways in which their own past actions might have been unfair. Instead, to “fix” the problem, they want to completely separate the Barbies from the Kens, which ultimately destroys any opportunity for compromise or unity. This situation bears an eerie resemblance to the origins of radical feminism. Gress explains,

[In] the early 1970s. Twelve (not an insignificant number) highly educated, upper class women sat around a table in New York City and chanted this “litany” to express what they wanted to see happen in the world:

“Why are we here today?” the chairwoman asked. “To make revolution,” they answered.

“What kind of revolution?” she replied. “The Cultural Revolution,” they chanted.

“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” she demanded. “By destroying the American family!” they answered. “How do we destroy the family?” she came back.

“By destroying the American Patriarch,” they cried exuberantly.

As demonstrated by Gress within the context of radical feminism, at the heart of the respective matriarchal and patriarchal revolutions that the Barbies and the Kens are trying to start, exists individualism in its most threatening form, an individualism that aims to attack and destroy the family, one of the strongest embodiments of the natural, Trinitarian union between men and women.

As illustrated above, it is through the giving of himself to the other that man is able to find himself and watch the other become a fuller version of himself through living out this love. Therefore, any effort to divide this unity is not only inhuman but also profoundly unfulfilling. As Gress quotes French priest Fr. Andre Feuillet saying,

Most of what is wrong in the world today is an effort by women to meet [their] desires, but in misguided ways. It is only when we tap into God, into the Trinity, that these desires can be met—and not just met, but exceeded in ways beyond our comprehension.

To drive an even further gap between men and women, following the “deprogramming” of the brainwashed Barbies, the “enlightened” Barbies decide to strategically turn the Kens against each other. This course of action further confirms the fact that the Barbies did not possess any authentic respect for the Kens in the first place. Instead, they will stop at nothing to ensure that their own power is upheld. Although this division is deeply troubling, it is the conversation between stereotypical Barbie and Ken that ultimately drives the nail into the individualism coffin.

While the Kens are distracted with fighting each other, the Barbies quickly restore matriarchal order. When he discovers this, blindsided Ken retreats to a private spot and breaks down. Barbie quickly follows after him. The conversation begins on a hopeful note as Barbie offers Ken an apology for taking him for granted, but the hope is quickly dashed by Barbie’s response to Ken’s desire for a relationship. As she rejects him, he tries to remind her of their unified nature as a couple, crying out:

I just don’t know who I am without you…It’s “Barbie and Ken.” There is no just “Ken.” That’s why I was created. I only exist within the warmth of your gaze. Without it, I’m just another blonde guy who can’t do flips.

In a roundabout way, Ken’s words embody the cry of man’s heart, to be united with the other, to die to oneself, living in light of the other’s gaze. This is the universal fulfillment of man. Again, one must refer to Gaudium et Spes 24: “…man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

Ken’s words could have been the first lines and something that illustrates beautiful Trinitarian complementarity. However, because the film takes place in modern day, and in the midst of an anthropology that tells you to “find your own truth,” Barbie, in rejecting him, suggests that, “Maybe it’s time to discover who Ken is… This isn’t the answer… Maybe it’s Barbie and… It’s Ken.” While discovering the unique particularities of oneself

is admirable and important, because man is Trinitarian, it only makes sense to do so while simultaneously in the midst of a union. To elaborate, while distinct, the role of each person of the Trinity cannot make true sense without being described within the context of the roles of the other persons because, although three, the Trinity is one. Similarly, because the Ken doll was made to accompany the Barbie doll, it does not make sense for Ken to evaluate himself as if he wore completely separate from Barbie. Such thoughts would fail to include the fundamentally crucial information that Ken was made to be Barbie’s companion, but of course, Stereotypical Barbie’s “inspirational” words broke the patriarchal spell, allowing each Ken to discover that he is his own person.

Hope rises again as one of the Kens wisely illuminates the fact that “We were only fighting because we didn’t know who we were.” Soon after, the Barbies and the Kens begin to reconcile and make small compromises, but never with equal dignity— “Oh, I can’t [allow you to serve as a Supreme Court Justice]. But maybe a lower circuit court judgeship.” While contentment is restored in Barbie Land, Stereotypical Barbie, for reasons she can’t understand, is still wrestling with her purpose.

Barbie and the “Anti- Fiat”

As the tension in Barbie Land seems to resolve itself, Gloria’s daughter asks, “What about [Stereotypical] Barbie? What’s her ending? What does she get?” The CEO of Mattel, knowing what a Barbie is, replies “Well, that’s easy. She’s in love with Ken.” Before anyone else can speak, Gloria’s daughter snaps, “That is not her ending,” but why is the girl so quick to defend this position? Because, in the spirit of progressive individualism, she wants Barbie to go against the crowd, to forget part of what makes her a Barbie in the first place, and to find her own “truth.” Barbie then explains that she is not in love with Ken, and that she doesn’t really know what she wants, that she feels as though she doesn’t have an ending. Suddenly, the creator of Barbie emerges from the crowd, saying, “I created you so you wouldn’t have an ending.” It is at this moment that the film most evidently reveals its unapologetically postmodern nature. With her words, Ruth Handler acts as the voice of postmodern anthropology, telling her that she, as an individual, could make up her own ending.

Ruth’s assertion ignores the fact that Barbie, by nature, accompanies Ken, and at an even more fundamental level, was created as a toy to entertain children. Therefore, Barbie does indeed have an ending. This piece of Barbie’s story, however, is never acknowledged. Presumably, because she is confused about what and who she is supposed to be. Because her creator told her that she did not have an ending, she says, “I don’t really feel like Barbie anymore.”

One must pay close attention to how she says that she doesn’t feel like Barbie, even though every facet of reality supports the fact that she is, and was made to be, Barbie. Instead of drawing Barbie’s attention back to the reality of who she is, Ruth invites Barbie into a white void to go on a walk with her and do a little bit of soul- searching. After a few minutes of explaining how much she is not Barbie anymore, a statement supported exclusively by her feelings, Barbie decides to become a human being. To do so, she joins hands with Ruth, and the only thing Barbie is encouraged to do to complete this process of changing her nature is to “feel.”

After experiencing a sentimental barrage of human feelings, Barbie emphatically says, “Yes,” and, in a moment, denies her nature, choosing to transform from the thing that’s made, the gift that she is, into the maker, someone who, with full dominion over herself, is in complete control of her own destiny, apart from anyone or anything else. To summarize, based on discontentment, based on feelings alone, Barbie refuses to embrace her nature as a toy because she wants to be the one in control. When one reflects on this chain of events, in light of the most important “yes” in human history, the “yes” of Mary, one can see that Barbie’s “anti-Fiat” is a perfect demonstration of the postmodern, anti-Marian spirit.

To understand this, viewers must first thoroughly analyze Mary’s Fiat and what it reveals about humanity. In response to The Angel Gabriel telling her that she would give birth to a son, Mary questioned the plan out of a sense of wonder, but she but she never tried to grasp, control, or change the situation. She understood that, as a human being, every moment of her life was given to her, even, if not especially, a moment as incomprehensible as the Annunciation. She did not argue, or let her emotions influence her response. Instead, with a receptive heart and a certainty of the Lord’s goodness, she freely replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 RSVCE). In just a few words, Mary discloses the disposition that all human beings should hold towards life; although we may not understand all of the events that occur in our lives, we need to understand that our lives were gifted to us, and therefore, we must behold the gift with hearts full of receptivity, surrender towards its giver, but such a disposition does not begin without a sense of unwavering self-knowledge, knowledge of our nature. As Carrie Gress explains,

Mary knew the truth about herself: that everything she had, everything she was, and everything she would ever do was because of the gifts offered to her by her Father, her Creator. She not only knew the truth about herself—which has made her the humblest woman to ever live—but she also knew the truth about God, who he is, especially as Father and Creator.

The Mother of God knew her belovedness perfectly. She understood who she was as a gift and who she was made for. As a result, she never attempted to crush the gift of her life under the grip of her own will or of desires for personal pleasure. Mary’s Fiat, in its perfection, embodies the cure to false, individualistic anthropology.

Knowing this information, audiences can better understand the misguided nature of Barbie’s “yes” to becoming human. As addressed in the first section of this essay, The desire to become human, to become something more than what you already are, is an absolutely beautiful desire. However, as this essay also explains, Barbie’s desire for humanity does not stem from a desire to become something more, or in other words, a better Barbie. Instead, she has a desire to become someone, or rather something, entirely different.

To paraphrase, Mary’s Fiat comes as the result of an embrace of her nature while Barbie’s “yes” comes from a complete rejection of her nature as a Barbie, a need for control over her own destiny— “I want to be a part of the people that make meaning. Not the thing that’s made.” In short, it is not Barbie’s desire to be something more that is troubling, but rather what becoming human represents for Barbie— a complete rejection of her original purpose. Moreover, the reasons she chooses to become human are equally as disheartening. She does not want to be in love with Ken. She simply doesn’t feel like Barbie anymore.

Such reasons come from a complete misunderstanding of humanity’s Trinitarian nature. Her reasons are, by principle, completely individualistic. With her desire to choose her own path, Barbie abandons Ken, and, in essence, asks the same anthropocentric question as Cain, inquiring, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Eloquently, Pope John Paul II provides an answer to this question, saying, “Christ comes… into the midst of Cain’s question and responds: ‘Yes, you are a guardian, you are the guardian of holiness, guardian of man’s dignity in every woman and in every man.’” (Communio). Although mainstream false anthropology may argue otherwise, man was designed to protect, uplift, and help fellow men in a beautifully perichoretic exchange. Denying such a fact would result in even further rejection of one’s nature. In short, when Barbie asks this question with her actions, she exemplifies individualism.

Furthermore, she makes the decision based on feeling instead of making a decision based on what is actually occurring and what has been given to her. This, again, demonstrates the anti-Marian spirit that is overwhelmingly present today. When detailing the radical feminism of the 21st century, Gress describes,

Women haven’t just listed a bit to the wayward side of the moral compass; they shattered the compass. Almost overnight, our once pro-life culture became pro-lifestyle, returning to an epicurean paganism that embraces everything that feels good… History is full of stories of a woman feeding what started as a prick of discontent that grew into her own destruction.

In other words, giving in to personal feelings of discontentment that are not rooted in reality will never satisfy. Instead, such courses of action are not only anthropologically wrong, but they also prove to be fundamentally against authentic feminine receptivity.

When one carefully compares Mary’s Fiat to Barbie’s “yes,” he can easily discover that Barbie’s theoretically beautiful desire to become human is ultimately derived from a misguided, self-centered desire to take control of her own destiny.

“Are We Going to Hell in a Handbasket?”

So, what exactly does Gerwig’s film reveal? As I have described, what had the potential to be a beautiful cinematic representation of what it means to existentially struggle, and then discover the freedom of living, not for oneself, but for the other is vastly limited by the erroneous anthropology of mainstream culture. But, in what way does the film contribute to society? Should we leave the theaters and fall into a pit of despair, believing the world is going to hell in a handbasket due to the promotion of such a false anthropology? Should we stand outside auditoriums with pitchforks and picket signs, preventing further screening of Barbie? In simple terms, no, we should not.

To close, I would like to reflect on what was going on behind the screen. Was a menacing Greta Gerwig plotting to destroy authentic anthropology? No. In fact, I genuinely believe she was trying to make a beautiful film. The very fact that she made a film that follows the existential struggle of an otherwise perfect Barbie proves that, unlike most, she is willing to explore complex philosophical ideas, to, in some way capture the complexity of the human condition. She was trying to provide a unique glimpse into what appears to be a sparkly world. She wanted to reveal the humanity within it. However, as shown, the anthropological backing for this film was dramatically underwhelming, which reduced what the beautiful concept could have revealed. It is incredibly important to note that, after much research and an adequate understanding of what Gerwig was trying to accomplish with the film, such an inhuman anthropology in the film was not Gerwig’s fault, but rather the fault of her well-meaning, disordered milieu.

To elaborate, the only reason Gerwig demonstrated

such an insufficient anthropology is because she has not yet discovered true anthropology. Because we live in a time where such radical individualism is culturally dominant, especially in Hollywood, Gerwig took what appeared to be a liberating message according to her milieu, the milieu that influences her whether she’s conscious of it or not, and applied it to her medium in an attempt to make something beautiful. Barbie demonstrates that, like every one of us, Gerwig is on a journey and she has not yet found the Christian anthropology that brings true joy and fulfillment. In fact, so many of the moments throughout the film were extremely close to illustrating the truth, but they were cut short by false anthropology.

Should we avoid this film because it wasn’t quite close  enough to the truth? No, in fact, the paragraph above embodies why Barbie is such an important tool. The entire film and its poor execution serve as a microcosm for what can happen with anything in our lives.

Barbie as a film shows us what happens if the truth, if reality, and if dignity, are not properly considered. People were trying to create something beautiful, but without proper knowledge of the human person, without consideration of our Trinitarian nature, the reality that we are created as gift for the other, what starts beautiful can quickly become trivial, or, in worst cases, demeaning and ugly. Let Gerwig’s Barbie serve as a cultural example of why we must never forget what, or rather who, we were made for. To conclude this essay, I invite all readers to reflect on Pope John Paul II’s closing remarks of Fides et Ratio (107):

I ask everyone to look more deeply at man, whom Christ has saved in the mystery of his love, and at the human being’s unceasing search for truth and meaning. Different philosophical systems have lured people into believing that they are their own absolute master, able to decide their own destiny and future in complete autonomy, trusting only in themselves and their own powers. But this can never be the grandeur of the human being, who can find fulfilment only in choosing to enter the truth, to make a home under the shade of Wisdom and dwell there. Only within this horizon of truth will people understand their freedom in its fullness and their call to know and love God as the supreme realization of their true self.


Kate Cailteux

Kate Cailteux is a Benedictine College Evangelization & Catechesis major from Andover, Kansas. She has served in youth ministry positions on campus and intends to pursue graduate studies at the St. John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.