*This piece contains spoilers.
Like millions of others, I fell captive to the marketing genius of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. On the movie’s opening day, I donned my pinkest outfit and joined my friends to see Barbie in all her glittery glory.
But for a movie purporting to be fun and light-hearted, I was fascinated to see how its characters also wrestled with questions of death, gender, and purpose. Barbieland reflects its own kind of Garden of Eden, inviting Christians to compare and contrast the film with Scripture while opening the door for worthwhile conversations.
“Do You Guys Ever Think About Dying?”
In the pink plastic paradise of Barbieland, women can be anything: a CEO, the President, an Astronaut, a construction worker, a mother. Every day is perfect until Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) asks in the middle of a dance number, “Do you guys ever think about dying?”
In the same way that death is an unwanted intruder in Barbieland, human death had no rightful place in the Garden of Eden. God saw everything he had made, including humanity, and declared it very good (Gen 1:31). Death entered the Garden as a result of the Fall, where Adam and Eve listened to their own wisdom rather than the wisdom of God. Creation was therefore cursed:
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)
Death is a foreign enemy, an unwanted houseguest, the most unnatural part of life. Barbie desperately wants to eradicate her negative thoughts, leading her on a journey to the Real World. In the end, Barbie chooses a mortal and meaningful life over a shallow immortality.
For Christians, it is true that death makes way for salvation history, which brings glory to God and a greater outcome for those who are in Christ, the second Adam (1 Cor 15:20–28, 42–58). And yet, fundamentally, death is not a good thing, nor is immortality a bad thing.
As alluded to in Genesis 3:15, God becomes the serpent-crusher when Jesus journeys to the cross, defeating sin and death and providing for us the hope of rich, meaningful, eternal life in the new creation. As the perfect and infinite source of all truth, justice, meaning and beauty, an eternity of service to God is not plastic and hollow.
The Struggle Between Barbie and Ken
With a film like Barbie being released in 2023, and in light of today’s gender politics, there is little surprise about its focus on the relationship between men and women as typified in Barbie and Ken. The picture painted by the co-writing duo Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (partners in real life) shows a genuine struggle between the sexes.
Early in the movie, the narrator states: “Barbie has a great day every day, but Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him.”
While Barbie shows that women can do anything and be anything, Ken is merely a sidekick. When Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling) comes with Stereotypical Barbie to the Real World, he is thrilled to discover patriarchy for the first time. When Ken attempts to bring patriarchy to Barbieland, life for the Barbies turns out for the worse.
How does this compare to the picture of life in the Garden of Eden? Consider God’s words in Genesis chapter 1 verses 26 to 27:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
From the Garden, men and women were both made in God’s image. Not only this, men and women need each other to serve together as co-workers in God’s creation. When God first made Adam, there was “no suitable helper” for him from among the animals (Gen 2:20). So when Adam cries out that Eve is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23), he is primarily overjoyed at Eve’s sameness. She is like him!
Christians, therefore, reject the kind of patriarchy that Ken discovers and imitates, in which men are domineering over women. This is one mark of a cursed creation caused by the Fall (Gen 3:16). At the same time, a world which is almost entirely run by women is not in line with God’s good design for humanity, which Barbie comes just short of claiming.
Barbie and Ken are also presented as having some level of difference (she has her Dream House while he has his Mojo Dojo Casa House—the equivalent of a man cave). Shared humanity does not rule out any difference between the sexes. The Bible leads us to expect that these differences will also mean that men and women, in general, will experience particular challenges in a sinful world.
More than this, though, in his ordering, God has given particular roles for men and women in the world. This is reflected in marriage, ultimately pointing to the relationship between Christ and the church (Rev 21:2, Eph 5:22–27), and in part highlighting the unique role women have in childbirth. God has also instructed order within his church, one element of which is qualified men serving as overseers (1 Tim 3:1–13). Thus, Christians living in light of God’s sovereign design will not fully reflect Barbieland, even though this film will be a prompt for lots of worthwhile conversations.
Where Do You Find Your Purpose?
Ken’s major struggle throughout the movie is one of identity: his entire personhood is defined by being Barbie’s boyfriend. The resolution includes a frank conversation between Robbie’s Barbie and Gosling’s Ken:
Ken: I just don’t know who I am without you.
Barbie: You’re Ken.
Ken: But it’s ‘Barbie and Ken’. There is no just ‘Ken’.
Barbie: Maybe it’s time to discover who Ken is.
Barbie helps Ken realise he is enough (or “Kenough”, as the movie playfully puts it). Ken must work out his purpose and find himself rather than being defined by the relationships he is placed in. On the other hand, Barbie finds purpose in becoming an active part of the world rather than simply an idea.
It’s true that in Christianity there is individual responsibility for sin and an individual call to come to Jesus and find forgiveness (John 7:37). But whereas Barbie seems to primarily emphasise the importance of establishing our identity independent of each other, the Bible strongly emphasises that men and women also need each other. In the Garden of Eden, God gives men and women this creation mandate:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
Now that the mystery of salvation is revealed in Jesus, we see that being fruitful in the world involves partnering together to fulfil his Great Commission (Mat 28:16–20). At the most fundamental level, our very identity comes not from within but from who God has called us to be as a royal priesthood of believers in Christ (1 Pet 2:9). Thus, our individual identity is found in relationship to God and to one another.
The Barbie movie provides a genuine opportunity to engage with people who don’t yet know Jesus. Barbie could be your invitation to start conversations about the true utopia, life in the new creation, the relationship between the sexes and and how all of us are invited to find our purpose in Christ.
 Two of Baumbach’s films, The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Marriage Story (2019), involve harrowing explorations of marital breakdown.