Tv & Film
Unveiling the Enigmatic Creator: Ruth Handler's Role in the Barbie Movie
The journey led Gerwig to an immersive experience, a Barbie bootcamp, guided by Mattel, the parent company of Barbie. The bootcamp revealed the fascinating journey of Barbie, from her debut at the 1959 Toy Fair in New York City to becoming the world's most recognizable toy, with over a billion dolls sold worldwide.
Gerwig's focus centered on the relationship between Ruth Handler and her daughter, Barbara, whom Barbie is named after. In an interview for TIME's recent cover story on Barbie, Gerwig emphasized the significance of this mother-daughter connection, stating, "A Barbie movie is only ever going to be a mother-daughter movie on so many levels because it was Ruth Handler and Barbara—that was the relationship."
Ruth Handler, the mysterious woman behind Barbie's creation, emerges in the Barbie movie as a figure of reverence and significance. Played by Rhea Perlman of Cheers fame, Handler is depicted as a kind yet imperfect deity, residing in the enchanting Barbie Land alongside Margot Robbie's character, one of many Barbie dolls. The film beautifully weaves Handler's spiritual presence, intertwined with Barbie's journey of self-discovery.
Handler's invention of Barbie in the 1950s revolutionized the toy industry. Prior to Barbie's introduction, dolls predominantly represented babies, subtly conditioning girls to embrace motherhood. Handler, however, envisioned a doll that mirrored adult women, encouraging girls to dream about their future potential. Inspired by her daughter Barbara's playful interactions with paper dolls, Handler named her iconic creation Barbie, forever shaping the world of toys.
When Handler initially pitched the idea of an adult-looking doll to Mattel's executives, they hesitated, fearing that no mother would buy a doll with adult-like features. Nevertheless, Handler persisted, and her breakthrough came when she encountered a German doll named Bild Lilli during a European trip in 1956. This doll, based on a popular comic strip character, had voluptuous proportions and served as a pin-up figure during World War II. Handler presented this doll as evidence to Mattel's designers, igniting the path to Barbie's creation.
Barbie's debut at the 1959 Toy Fair in New York City marked an instant success. Clad in the now-iconic black-and-white striped bathing suit, just like Margot Robbie's character in the movie, Barbie quickly became a cultural phenomenon. With the introduction of Ken (named after Handler's son) in 1961, Barbie's world expanded, evolving from a fashion doll into a multifaceted career woman.
Ruth Handler's life, much like Barbie herself, was complex. In 1978, she faced legal troubles, along with other Mattel executives, leading to indictments and fines. However, Handler found a second act in the 1980s when she created a line of lifelike prostheses for women who had undergone mastectomies, providing a sense of empowerment and normalcy.
In the Barbie movie, Ruth Handler's role transcends a mere biographical representation. As a spiritual guide, she comforts Barbie during moments of doubt and aids her escape from restrictive norms. Their encounters echo a heavenly revelation, as Handler imparts wisdom about embracing humanity and facing mortality.
Greta Gerwig's artistic touch is evident in the movie, particularly during a touching moment where Barbie and Ruth share a symbolic hand touch. Inspired by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco depicting God giving life to the first man, Gerwig imbues this gesture with profound significance, illustrating that, in Barbie's world, the divine presence is embodied by a woman.
As Barbie departs Barbie Land for the real world, she embarks on a transformative journey, leaving behind a matriarchal Eden. In this captivating portrayal of Ruth Handler, the Barbie movie delves into the complexities of womanhood and empowerment, underscoring Barbie's role as a symbol of aspiration for generations of women.
Keywords: Greta Gerwig, Barbie movie, Ruth Handler, Barbie bootcamp, Mattel, Toy Fair, Margot Robbie, Rhea Perlman, Barbie Land, toy industry, Bild Lilli, doll proportions, women empowerment, career woman, lifelike prostheses, mastectomy, empowerment, symbolic touch, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, womanhood.