Barbie features my favorite scene of 2023, and it captures humanity at its best

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Barbie (2023)
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Greta Gerwig's Barbie was one of the most notable cinematic events of the year. Booked-out screenings of theater-goers decked out in pink took place all over the world and helped the Margot Robbie-led comedy land the biggest box office of 2023. It became part of pop-culture vernacular almost immediately, too, as "Hey Barbie!" solidified itself as a standard greeting among friends and its music made its way onto many people's Spotify Wrapped playlists. 

A lot has been made of its successes at bringing a hefty dose of fun to the big screen, as well as how it helped get bums on seats in a blockbuster summer. This is all true and undoubtedly forms a core part of the legacy of all things Barbie. But for me, looking back at the Gerwig and Noah-Baumbach-scripted release conjures much more than memes – and there's actually one scene in particular I can't stop thinking about.

What were we made for?


(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The moment in question comes right towards the end of Gerwig's toy story. Robbie's Stereotypical Barbie has saved Barbie Land and helped Ryan Gosling's Ken realize he's Kenough on his own, but there's one thing that remains – what's next for her? Ever since discovering her potential for existential dread, the reality of being human has both shocked and appealed to her, and finally, she makes a decision.

With Barbie inventor Ruth Handler in tow, she enters a limbo-type dimension as the first strings of Billie Eilish's 'What Was I Made For?' play. Here, Ruth tells Barbie she wants her to understand what it means to be human before she chooses to leave life in plastic. She shows her the leaves rustling on a tree before the film goes into a sequence full of joy as women, daughters, and families celebrate life in all of its forms. As the music swells, the clips show smiles, birthdays, dancing, and nature. In short, it's a snapshot of the beauty of ordinary life.

Gerwig drew on real life for this scene, making it the most grounded moment of an otherwise bright and polished film. Far from the visually arresting pink joy of Barbie's world, this moment used real, grainy footage filmed by the cast and crew who made Barbie (as well as Gerwig's own Super 8 images). 

"I had this idea that I wanted that moment in the film to be truly made by the people who made the movie," she told presenter Andrew Freund earlier this year. "So I said to everyone – cast, crew, everyone from editorial – 'If you have things that you’re comfortable with sharing, this is an idea.' We got the most beautiful moments from people's lives. It was people's friends, aunts, mothers, daughters, sisters. It was just extraordinary."

Present reflection


(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

It was a moment for me that captured the essence of standing still and looking at what life has the potential to offer. My personality naturally is that of a fixator – I'm constantly looking ahead to stresses in the future or lingering on past mistakes. One thing I struggle with is to be in the present and take time to look at and appreciate life as it currently is. Yet, when I do, I'm nearly always overwhelmed by what it means to just be. 

This scene spoke to me on this level, showing the power of looking around and examining what's right in front of you. From the rustling of leaves to a simple smile exchanged with someone you love, it was a reminder to stand still and appreciate. The surge of feeling it gave me, too, was no doubt enhanced by the magical setting of the cinema. Watching films in a darkly lit room is one of the only times I'm able to be completely present. Without the distractions of phones or laptops, it's a space to feel open to the emotions and ideas in front of you, and often share them with a room full of strangers. 

I suppose it's unsurprising in many ways that I felt so moved by this section of Barbie; in the past, I've found myself connecting deeply with Gerwig's works. As a filmmaker, she has a rare eye for the peculiarities of human feeling, in all of their glory and ugliness. So whether it be the growing pains of Lady Bird or Jo March's "I'm so lonely" speech in Little Women, moments in her films have long lingered after the credits. As a tear slid down Barbie's face at the innocent wonder at what life can be, this sequence solidified itself as another of Gerwig's best.

So while Barbie may be remembered for the copious amount of pink, a press tour like no other, and, well, the Ken of it all, I'll be listening to Eilish's haunting vocals and trying not to tear up. After all, Barbie is a film less about toys than it is about existentialism and mortality, and this gut-punch of a home movie in the midst of a blockbuster proves it. As Gerwig put it, when speaking about the sequence to TIME, "It's like sneaking in humanity to something that everybody thinks is a hunk of plastic."

For more on the year in review, here are our guides to the best movies of 2023 and the best TV shows of 2023.

Fay Watson

I’m an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering TV and film for the Total Film and SFX sections online. I previously worked as a Senior Showbiz Reporter and SEO TV reporter at Express Online for three years. I've also written for The Resident magazines and Amateur Photographer, before specializing in entertainment.