Barbarella (1968)

Barbarella, directed by Roger Vadim in is a French-Italian cult classic science-fiction film based on the “Barbarella” comics from 1962-1964. This movie was made and released during the peak (no pun intended) years of the sexual revolution. Netflix’s summary reads, “A shapely 41st-century space traveler [Jane Fonda] dispatched to find a missing scientist discovers the joys of celestial sex and experiences kinky misadventures.” This film and Jane Fonda created the archetypes that we still have today of the 1960s perception of the future: the utopian vision of color, hair, love, sex, adventure, freedom etc.

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There isn’t a specific year that is ever overtly stated in the film, but it is clearly set sometime in the far away future; the video release states that it is the year 40,000, while Netflix claims that it is the 41st century. At the start of the film, Barbarella speaks to the president over her video communication device. The “universe has been pacified for centuries…” she (Jane Fonda) exclaims. In this peaceful universe, weapons exist only in museums. “Why would anyone want to invent a weapon?” she asks with genuine confusion.

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Notice in the above frame, Barbarella has been given weaponry from the president through their teleportation device from the “museum of conflict” so that she can go and save the universe and all of its inhabitants from the threat of evil scientist Duran Duran and the Tyrant Queen. One of the guns has the likeness of two human hands made out of metal, above. The director seems to be juxtaposing war and love in this frame by having that weapon’s silvery, cold, metal, hand right beside Barbarella’s open hand as she says “Love” to sign off from her talk with the president over her video communication device.

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The president says responds with this universal greeting/farewell, “Love.”

Also notice that Barbarella is naked in the presence of the President of Earth’s Republic (Earth too, of course, has been completely peacefully unified into just one republic…). Obviously, in1968 there was a vision that in the future, nakedness, even in front of highly regarded people will no longer be frowned upon.

Among many aspects of the film that shed light on this predicted order in the 41st century, the viewer can also make some inferences about the perception that existed of the present times from the movies script.

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The film is full of anti-war implications, especially in the above stills in the same conversation. However, even in these hippie days, it is known that we always have to actively love or else the world will be overcome with war and hate. This peace is therefore, not absolute. The movie’s antagonist, rogue scientist, Duran Duran has invented a weapon that is strong enough to shatter the “loving union of the universe” says the President, and Barbarella is the only one who can save all inhabitants.

The future portrayed in Barbarella is an ordered and peaceful; people no longer live in a “primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility” except of course for the inhabitants of the uncharted region of Tau Ceti.

Sexual liberation, particularly that of women is addressed adamantly in this film. I was pleasantly surprised at how progressive, light-hearted, and hilarious the movie was about this theme though.

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Barbarella is is cool and composed. He asks her to make love and then we hear, but do not see her response as she indifferently says, “…make love did you say?” (second picture above) The camera stays fixed on him, objectifying him after he as requested to make love to her, rather than cutting back to her face and seeing her reaction. I think that leaving out that reverse shot of Barbarella’s reaction is a cinematographic way of expressing Barbarella’s upper hand in this encounter. It is he, who wants her even more than she wants him.

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When the camera does cut back to her, we see how beautiful she is in his eyes with a shot from his point of view. Notice the void-like, yonic shape of the background behind Barbarella as she speaks to the man who saved her about how she can reward him for such a deed. The dialogue and this background both speak for power of the vagina. The empowered woman did not want to have the kind of sexuality that penetrated she wanted to have the kind that engulfed.

This film’s portrayal of the power of a women’s sexuality is also a source of comic relief; then scene in which the evil scientist Duran Duran captures Barbarella and puts her in the “excessive machine,” a sexual musical instrument that is meant to torture her by giving the victim excessive pleasure until she dies.

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“You will die of pleasure!” he tells her. However, the evil scientist begins to get frustrated with Barbarella and her incredible sexual stamina that overloads the machine! Ha! You gotta love that one.

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Lastly, just notice the same void like formation (in the second of the three pictures above) that was seen earlier in the background again here, the symbol of the power of the female, the V-shaped chalice.

Barbarella was inspired by Jean-Claude Forest’s French Barbarella comics from 1962. The sexual liberation of exhibited was quite ahead of it’s time.

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