“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.”  (Deuteronomy 11:16)

            I admit it.  In response to the ongoing popular culture phenomenon, I went to see Barbie this week.   The movie was clever, colorful, and fun.  I understand why it surpassed one billion dollars in earnings.  Congratulations to director Greta Gerwig and her entire creative crew.

            The movie was meant to be fun, but it was also meant to be more than fun.  It was meant to convey an important message.  Some of that was pure cognitive dissonance, pro- and anti-capitalism at the same time.   The movie clearly portrayed Mattel, Inc., the toy manufacturer of the Barbie doll, as the villain.  And it did it while making millions of dollars for Mattel.

            The seriousness of the movie came out in the first scene.  It was an imitation of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.   Like the primitive men in the Kubrick movie, little girls are smashing baby dolls on the ground.  One throws a doll into the air as Richard Strauss’s powerful classic tone poem “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” plays.  It is the opening theme of both movies.  Then suddenly, we are in Barbie Land.

            Imagine Barbie Land as patriarchy stood on its head.  Women (all named Barbie) control everything while men are mostly meant to look pretty while remaining in the background.  Ken is literally a “boy-toy.”  It is a vision of the world before the feminist revolution, only in reverse.  It is pure matriarchy. But the most popular of the Barbies (Margot Robbie) is having dark thoughts and decides to leave Barbie Land and visit the real world, my hometown of Los Angeles.  Ken (Ryan Gosling) comes along for the ride.  When he arrives in Los Angeles, Ken discovers the joys of patriarchy, a world where men run everything.  And we soon discover that the most patriarchal institution of them all is Mattel, run by a misogynist C.E.O. (Will Ferrell).  Ken decides to go back and introduce patriarchy to Barbie Land. 

            Will Barbie be able to stop him?  What will win, matriarchy or patriarchy?  I will not give away the ending, but I am intrigued by this binary choice.  It is matriarchy versus patriarchy.  Men versus women.  There are only two choices.  It reminds me of the first verse of this week’s portion, “I set before you the blessing and the curse.”  One or the other.  It is like the words I heard during the anti-Vietnam protests of my college days, “You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.”  More recently, it reminds me of the words of Ibram X. Kendi in his book How to be an Antiracist, “You are either a racist or an antiracist.”

            We live in a world where people feel forced to make binary choices.  Patriarchy or matriarchy.  Pro-life or pro-choice.  Pro-immigration or anti-immigration.  Democrat or Republican.  Left or right.  Zionist or anti-Zionist.   Computers work by binary codes, long lists of ones and zeros.  If a zero becomes a one or a one becomes a zero, the computer crashes.  As I watched Barbie, I kept thinking about these binary choices, would women or men run Barbie Land?

            What I love about Jewish tradition is it rejects binary thinking.  There is a nuanced middle ground, a way to find a balance.  There is truth on both sides.  The world needs both men and women.  In fact, kabbalah is based on the idea that the masculine and feminine aspects of God are out of balance.  Our job as human beings is to bring them back into balance.

            As I watched the movie, I wondered whether my seven-year-old grandson would enjoy it.  I think he would.  It is filled with humor and joyous scenes.  But it is not a children’s movie.  It is a strongly adult movie that tries to develop a message.  Should we live in a world ruled by women, or a world ruled by men?  Do we have to make such a binary choice?  Or is there a middle ground of balance between men and women?  I hope we can find such a middle ground. 

Perhaps Barbie can marry Ken and they can live happily ever after.