February 24, 2024

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In the highest-grossing movie of 2023, Barbie, a literal doll, leaves Barbieland and ventures into real-world Los Angeles, where she discovers the difficulties of modern womanhood. This arc from cosseted naïveté to feminist awakening connects cultural products of the year. In this episode of Critics at Large, 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,” where the protagonist finds self-determination through sexual agency. In Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” a teen-age Priscilla Beaulieu lives under Elvis’s thumb at Graceland before breaking free, while in Emma Cline’s novel “The Guest,” the doll figure must fend for herself after luxury falls 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 and listen to the critics:

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

New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.