Greta Gerwig Talks Latest “Emotional” Line, Designer Ruth Handler (Spoilers!)

Spoiler alert! The following contains details about the ending of “Barbie” (now in theaters).

There is no question of putting Barbie back in the box.

After an existential trip to Los Angeles, Barbie (Margot Robbie) successfully restores balance to Barbie Land, which is taken over by the patriarchal Kens in the film’s heavily satirical third act. But like Frodo at the end of “The Return of the King,” Barbie no longer feels comfortable in her cozy, familiar world. Hungry for emotions and human experiences, she decides to leave the Valley of the Dolls and start a new life in California.

And with some gentle guidance from her inventor, Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman), Barbie chooses to come to terms with mortality and become a person by the end of the film, adopting the Handler surname for herself. Greta Gerwig, who directed and co-wrote “Barbie,” tells USA TODAY about Handler’s real life and that brilliant closing moment.

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In the final scene, awesome Mattel employee Gloria (America Ferrera) and her daughter, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), drop Barbie off at an office building for what appears to be a job interview. Anxious but excited, Barbie walks through a waiting room to a receptionist’s desk, beaming as she utters the film’s final line, “I’m here to see my gynecologist.”

“With this film, it was important to me that everything worked on at least two levels,” says Gerwig. “I knew I wanted to end with a mic drop joke, but I also find it very moving. When I was a teenager, I remember growing up being embarrassed by my body, and feeling ashamed in ways I couldn’t even describe. It was as if everything had to be hidden.

“And then seeing Margot in Barbie, with that big old smile on her face, saying what she says at the end with so much happiness and joy,” Gerwig continues. “I was like, if I can give the girls that ‘Barbie does it too’ feeling – it’s both funny and touching. There’s so much like that throughout the film. It was always about leaning and heart.

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Ruth Handler, left, receives a kiss from Kristi Cooke, an actress dressed as a Barbie doll, in 1994.

Ruth Handler, left, receives a kiss from Kristi Cooke, an actress dressed as a Barbie doll, in 1994.

Barbie designer Ruth Handler wanted the doll to be ambitious

Ruth Handler, who first appears as a character halfway through “Barbie,” co-founded Mattel in 1945. She got the idea for Barbie after watching her young daughter, Barbara, play with paper dolls of adult women. Given the popularity of dolls at the time, Handler saw Barbie as an ambitious alternative: a toy to help girls envision lives and careers besides being mothers and housewives.

“Ruth saw that little girls wanted to play big girls,” says Robin Gerber, author of “Barbie and Ruth.” “She described it as a toy that would allow girls to imagine being whatever they wanted to be.”

The first Barbie doll from 1959 on display at "The World of Barbie"  exhibition in Santa Monica, California earlier this year.

The first 1959 Barbie doll on display at “The World of Barbie” exhibit in Santa Monica, California earlier this year.

The first Barbie came out in 1959 and became an instant hit. But the doll was also controversial for its small size and large bust – features inspired by the German fashion doll Bild Lilli. Handler found Bild Lilli on a trip to Hamburg and used her as a model for Barbie.

“If this doll had smaller breasts, I think Barbie would have had smaller breasts,” Gerber says. “It’s an accident of history.”

In Handler’s 1994 book “Dream Doll,” she wrote that some Mattel designers were “disgusted” by a doll with breasts, but she held on.

“Every little girl needed a doll to project herself into her dream of the future,” Handler told The New York Times in 1977. “If she was going to role-play what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was kind of silly to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave her nice breasts.”

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Ruth Handler holding a Barbie doll in 1999. The Mattel businesswoman died in 2002 aged 85.

Ruth Handler holding a Barbie doll in 1999. The Mattel businesswoman died in 2002 aged 85.

Handler’s battle with breast cancer inspired her second career

In a cruel irony, Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1970 and underwent a double mastectomy. She left Mattel in 1974 and two years later started a new company called Nearly Me, making breast forms for post-mastectomy women.

“She invented inserts in a bra that you could put on after a double mastectomy, so you could still feel like yourself,” says Gerwig. “It was beautiful and poetic. Barbie was always presented as some sort of unrealistic physical ideal: incredibly beautiful and impossible to achieve for mere mortals. I thought, ‘This is so interesting, because the woman who created her physically underwent a transformation in a completely different direction.'”

It’s a poignant reminder that “Barbie is something that was made up,” adds Gerwig. “(Handler) is not Barbie. Margot is not Barbie. Nobody is Barbie.”

Margot Robbie, left, Ana Cruz Kayne, filmmaker Greta Gerwig and Hari Nef on the set of

Margot Robbie, left, Ana Cruz Kayne, filmmaker Greta Gerwig and Hari Nef on the set of ‘Barbie’.

Using silicone and foam, Nearly Me prostheses have been designed to be both comfortable and confidence-boosting. Handler employed the company almost entirely with women who had had mastectomies.

“In the early ’70s, women felt like criminals for having had breast cancer. It was very much hidden from your friends,” Gerber says. “She went to big companies like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s and said, ‘You need to create a separate lounge for women who’ve had a mastectomy, and they’ll be equipped for that and they’ll be treated with respect.

“She had a very clear idea of ​​not only wanting to give a product to women, but to restore their dignity.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Barbie’ Movie Ending Spoilers: Greta Gerwig on ‘Emotional’ Final Line

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