The Year of the Doll

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In the highest-grossing movie of 2023, Barbie, a literal doll, leaves the comforts of Barbieland and ventures into real-world Los Angeles, where she discovers the myriad difficulties of modern womanhood. This arc from cosseted naïveté to feminist awakening is a narrative through line that connects some of the biggest cultural products of the year. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how 2023 became “the year of the doll,” tracing the trope from “Barbie” to Yorgos Lanthimos’s film “Poor Things,” whose protagonist finds self-determination through sexual agency, and beyond. In Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” a teen-age Priscilla Beaulieu lives under the thumb of Elvis at Graceland before finally breaking free, while in Emma Cline’s novel “The Guest,” the doll figure must fend for herself after the trappings of luxury fall away, revealing the precarity of her circumstances. The hosts explore how ideas about whiteness, beauty, and women’s bodily autonomy inform these works, and how the shock of political backsliding might explain why these stories struck a chord with audiences. “Most of us believed that the work of Roe v. Wade was done,” Cunningham says. “If that is a message that we could all grasp—that a step forward is not a permanent thing—I think that would be a positive thing.”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

“Barbie” (2023)
“M3GAN” (2023)
“Poor Things” (2023)
“Priscilla” (2023)
The Guest,” by Emma Cline
The House of Mirth,” by Edith Wharton

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