The Theme of Existentialism in ‘Barbie’ Movie

This Barbie is Existentialist

Tashima Agrawal
Writers’ Blokke
5 min readSep 4, 2023


Photo by Roman Vsugon on Unsplash

*Warning: Spoilers ahead for the ‘Barbie’ movie*

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!

Or, is it?

That’s just one of the themes tackled by Greta Gerwig’s live-action ‘Barbie’ movie starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon among other talented artists.

And though the children had fun with the singing, dancing and all the pink and glitter, it is the adults who left the theatre with something to ponder upon.

The movie begins in the most ‘Barbie-y’ way possible, introducing the audience to the dreamland called ‘Barbieland’ where everything is pink (even the roads!) and shiny and the ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ i.e Margot Robbie greets the other Barbies and Kens and enjoys a regular fun day. Every day is the same at Barbieland and every day is the best day ever.

Until, ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ starts having thoughts of death, and starts developing human-like characteristics such as flat feet (which are EXTREMELY frowned upon in Barbieland) and cellulite on her thighs. The worried Barbie makes her way to ‘Weird Barbie’s’ (Barbie who has been played with “too hard”) house who tells her to go into the real world, find her owner and fix the space-time continuum to become her previous ‘perfect’ self again. And thus begins the quest of Barbie to discover the real world which is vastly different from Barbieland and discover her true self.

While the Barbie movie touches upon many themes such as equality and the impact of Barbie on young girls’ self esteem among others, there is a clear presence of the theme of existentialism in Barbie.

Existentialism is a philosophy founded in the early 20th-century in Europe which questions the meaning of life and the purpose of existence. The philosophy was propounded especially after the World Wars and the loss of lives, suffering, disillusionment and the economic crises that followed which caused many thinkers and writers to ponder upon the meaninglessness and absurdity of existence.

Coming back to the movie, Barbie enters the real world and learns about the sadness and problems that real people have which the dolls were completely oblivious to in their perfect happy land. Barbie, who advocates for feminism and believes that the dolls have empowered girls and women to be anything that they want to be gets a hard-hitting reality check when she learns from a tween that Barbie caused image issues in a lot of young girls and that, patriarchy continues to dominate the real world in many ways even today.

The teary-eyed Barbie is desperate to go back home when she is caught by Mattel company top officials who want to put her back in a box.

It is there that she meets her owner Gloria and the kind-hearted lady Ruth who helps her escape.

Even as Barbie, along with Gloria, and her tween daughter Sasha returns to her land, she discovers that everything has changed: Ken, taking inspiration from the real patriarchal world has created his own version of patriarchy in Barbieland with the Barbies serving the Kens, who were otherwise sidelined and ignored by them.

The helpless Barbie is then hit with a wave of depression and a feeling of existentialist crisis.

A lot of adventure follows and eventually, Barbie realizes her mistake of ignoring Ken and his feelings and makes him and the other Kens aware of their independent existence without Barbies. The Barbies also come up with the unanimous decision of creating a world where the Barbies and Kens work together, rather than the domination of either group.

But even after making things right in Barbieland, Barbie does not seem to be too happy. Barbie, who was so unwilling to leave her familiar Barbieland and step into the real world, starts feeling a sense of dissatisfaction in her perfect land afterwards. And in the end, she makes the decision of becoming a real person who would experience real world emotions, experience growth, become old and would eventually die.

But why did Barbie choose to leave a land which can be considered nothing less than a Utopia?

This reminds me of a story I read a long time ago. A man was disappointed with the way the world was functioning and decided to create his very own utopic world where everything would be perfect. He decided that all the creatures of the world would look the exact same and have the same amount of intelligence and same qualities so that there would be no disparity of any sort. There would be no negative emotions and only happiness in his world. There would also be no death. And so, the world was created and initially all the creatures were extremely happy. They looked exactly the same, did the same activities everyday and experienced no negative emotions. They were always happy and the man was very pleased and satisfied with his creation. But after some time, the creatures started getting bored. All of them looked the same, had same personalities, same amount of intelligence and did the exact same things everyday. There was no variety or novelty. This started to irk them and one day, all of them complained to their creator that they wanted to experience variety in all aspects and also wanted to experience negative emotions and death.

After experiencing the real world, Barbie could not help but compare her own world to it. She realized that the world is actually a much bigger place than she and her peers in Barbieland could have ever imagined. She was deeply affected by her encounters with wordly people (including the wonderful old woman who changed Barbie’s perception of beauty and old age). She started questioning Barbie’s purpose especially after encountering her owner’s daughter. Gradually, she started feeling a sense of detachment from her land and did not feel fulfilled even after fixing things in Barbieland. She was grappled with the desire to explore the real world, have different experiences and thus, discover her true purpose and self and so, she stepped into the real world, unafraid of the challenges it would offer.

Even though Barbie is definitely the lighter, fun-filled half of the combination of ‘Barbenheimer’, it nevertheless deals with complex topics of finding oneself and dealing with existentialist crises. Though the movie appears to be wearing the badge of feminism proudly on its sleeve, it is in fact not a feminist movie. It is so much more than what it appears to be on the surface.

This movie deserves to be seen, not just for the joyful and musical aspects of it (though they are wonderful in themselves) but also for the literary and philosophical values it carries.

One of the important lines in the movie is by Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie who says that she created Barbie so she wouldn’t have an ending which is indeed true. Barbie continues to be reimagined in myriad ways, 64 years after her creation and stands for more than just a feminist icon today.

It would be interesting to watch the numerous themes that Barbie explores in the years to come.



Tashima Agrawal
Writers’ Blokke

Hi, I am Tashima Agrawal, a student. I love reading and writing on various topics and want to learn and share, inspire and get inspired......