A lot of people are going to misinterpret Barbie as a movie for little girls with pastel colors and jokes that go over their heads. But underneath the pretty backdrops and incredible set design, there’s a whole other story that isn’t even from the iconic doll’s point of view. It’s Ken’s side of the story that Greta so graciously decided to tell. Now, for those who were complaining about Ryan Gosling being too old to play Ken, I don’t think anybody could’ve been more dramatic, comical, and, well, perfect. He plays Ken with such ease that it truly feels unironic and more of a genuine role for him. It’s possible all the embarrassing stuff he’s already been through makes him unmask his dramatic qualities perfectly for Ken, and as they say, the best Kens come from Ken-ada. Jokes aside, ironically, there’s a much bigger role for Ken to play in “feminist” Barbie than people expected. Let’s break that down a little bit. Before Barbie and Ken go to the real world, Ken thinks he’s just an accessory to Barbie, but because that’s all he’s been through his whole life, he doesn’t really care.
Ken is covered in male ego from head to toe. He wants to be strong; he wants to go head-to-head with another Ken because he’s jealous. It’s a reversal of the trope that pits women against each other for the gaze of a man, but to be fair, anybody would do that for Barbie. It’s especially funny because Barbie definitely doesn’t show any signs of being romantically interested in Simu Liu’s Ken. We’ll never know the real deal, but we do know that Ken has a lot to learn about himself. Barbie doesn’t even let him stay over in the dreamhouse because every night is girls’ night, and Ken’s “just a good friend.” Ken only accompanies Barbie because he made a double bet with Ken (Simu Liu), and he can’t be uncool in front of him. Maybe it’s because he can do a backflip, and Ryan Gosling’s Ken can’t. It’s always about being cool; this is clearly what Ken thinks he’s made for. Similar to Barbie’s journey, Ken is on the search to find his individuality and fragility. We know very well that he can crumble just at the thought of Barbie leaving him, but he’s kind of blind to that because, at the end of the day, he believes they’re supposed to be together.
When Ken sees men in the real world, his entire life feels like a mistake. He thinks Barbie has let him down by never showing him this kind of life. He picks up on “patriarchy,” but rather than the actual intricacies of the word, he ends up getting over-excited by it visually, hence wearing the mink coat like Rocky, and getting beers with his Ken-mates just seems like the right thing to do. We learn later that Ken could easily be distracted and bored as soon as he gets to play Warrior Ken with the other Kens. Ken makes Barbie’s dream house his Mojo Dojo Casa House, which is basically a bunch of horse decorations and mini-fridges. Ken feels respected in the real world, but in Barbie Land, he feels like a pretty mat that gets stepped on by fancy pointy heels.
Ken thinks Barbie failed him because she didn’t bother paying attention to him even though he was made for her, literally. In the real world, just being a man warrants respect. We can see that underneath the 8-pack, there’s a lot of resentment towards Barbie and women in general from Ken. In the real world, if a real guy turned on his heel the way Ken did, it would be rather scary because he is essentially a Barbie stalker. This isn’t something unfamiliar to many people; oftentimes men feel neglected or ignored when women follow their passion or try to forge their own path. While in Little Women (Spoiler alert), Greta decided to have Joe meet a guy while also pursuing her passion; this time, she did a flippity-flip and chose to give Ken a chance to explore his own identity rather than be sucked up by Barbie’s love. The romantic notion here is that Ken learned to let go and also work on himself, which, quite frankly, may not be as easy in the real world.
Also, we can’t go without mentioning Ken’s favorite song, “I Want to Push You Around and I Will” (read in the voice of Ryan Gosling’s Ken after Simu Liu’s Ken says hi to Barbie). What separates Ken from men in the real world is the fact that he is designed to be polite and help Barbie with whatever she needs. In his song “I’m Just Ken,” he sings that his destiny may only be to live a life of “blonde fragility.” He needs Barbie to fight for him and accept his love when it’s clear that she’s not interested at all. Barbie’s apology to Ken because she took him for granted essentially enlightens him and makes him feel seen. It’s difficult for anybody to separate themselves from their loved one, their career, their house, or their appearance, but sometimes all those things are just imposed on us. In the end, Ken realizes he’s just him—”Ken is Me”.
So, What Is Kenergy?
Well, Kenergy can be anything you want; it’s your fight for what’s within. It’s your love for the beach, or it’s the fact that you are “Kenough.” Ken goes from being an accessory to a cult leader and then realizes he doesn’t need any of those ideas to be himself. Of course, the idea of Ken isn’t relatable to most men, but what he goes through and his dependency on Barbie are things that a lot of people may feel in real life. Ken’s emotions are Kenergy, so the next time you’re upset, just say you’re showing off your “Kenergy,” maybe it’ll help you express yourself with no shame. It’s your childish innocence, but it’s also a feeling of safety for yourself and for the people around you. Mattel should sell Ken dolls with the label “Pick a Ken and find your Kenergy.”