"In my thirty-five-year career as a clinical psychologist, the question 'What might this be?' has been a staple in countless client sessions. It's the introductory line to the Rorschach test, a method of delving into the unconscious by having patients interpret ambiguous inkblot images.
Often used to aid diagnosis, this set of ten cards, each presenting a different inkblot, offers insights into emotional states tied to past experiences. Since leaving my therapy practice in 2019 to pursue writing, the Rorschach test had slipped from my thoughts.
That changed two weeks ago when I found myself at a screening of the summer blockbuster hit 'Barbie.' As I watched, I wondered how I'd define the film's essence. Could a movie ostensibly centered around the adventures of a plastic doll transcend its surface appeal and hold deeper meaning? After the movie, I asked my thirteen-year-old niece, Ava, for her thoughts.
Avoiding any influence on her response, I didn't mention my own impressions of the film's cleverness and creative melding of visuals. Her answer intrigued me, reflecting the depth a psychologist seeks. For Ava, Barbie wasn't just a lighthearted story but a tale of self-identity and belonging, particularly relevant in today's adolescent landscape.
In the days that followed, the film's interpretations flowed online. Think pieces abounded, often suggesting that Barbie was akin to a visual Rorschach test, with each viewer projecting unique meanings. This struck me – had Barbie offered a spectrum of images to probe diverse ideas, much like the Rorschach test? Diverse viewpoints emerged.
Was Barbie a covert feminist manifesto, critiquing male dominance? Women's opinions varied; some saw empowerment, others contention. An activist friend argued it subverted anti-abortion sentiments, a perspective I hadn't considered.
And then a civil engineer cousin viewed it as Mattel's marketing coup, spotlighting Barbie's imperfections while boosting sales. As a psychologist, I listened intently for pivotal scenes resonating with different viewers. A Starbucks conversation unveiled interpretations ranging from mortality themes to societal stereotype satire.
The film's depiction of loneliness moved a woman whose personal experiences colored her perspective.
Navigating Motherhood's Emotional Terrain
Driving home, my psychologist's curiosity crept in. I'd dismissed Barbie as a romp, yet my conversation with Lanie about motherhood's challenges stirred deeper feelings.
I recalled the scene of Sasha's mom attempting to connect, identifying with her struggles. My own experiences raising my daughter Grace flashed back. I remembered seeking to provide her a better mother-daughter relationship than I'd had, navigating the tumultuous teenage years.
Recently, Grace – now a millennial – called after watching the same film. She opened up about its impact on her, focusing on the mother-daughter dynamic. This dialogue, untainted by our earlier discussions, revealed the film's impact beyond its animation.
It encapsulated the intergenerational cycle of strong women uplifting each other. The film, billed as "for everyone," indeed became a canvas for individual interpretations. As a psychologist and mother, my perspective deepened through this cinematic Rorschach.
With each viewer finding their unique meaning, 'Barbie' transcends the surface, tapping into a kaleidoscope of emotions and experiences. Looking forward, I anticipate more conversations about 'stupid Barbie,' each revealing fresh layers of insight."