In 1860, the Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, wrote a long poem entitled “Tithonus.” The title character is in love with Eos, goddess of the dawn, so he asks her to grant him immortality so they may stay together. She does that but forgets to include that he shall be eternally young, since she is new every morning. As Tithonus ages and ages, while Eos stays eternally young, he grows weary of immortality and begs to be returned to his human condition even though it means he will die. In a particularly moving line, he speaks of how cold his feet are. The poem ends with his giving up eternal old age because it is too painful to love someone utterly different from him.

When the movie, “Barbie” became such a hit, I learned from friends who saw it in a theatre that Barbie chooses to become human and leave Barbieland where everything is eternally fresh/bright/entertaining/magical. I flashed to Tennyson’s poem and waited impatiently for the movie to be offered on a streaming platform. Once I watched it, I knew I wanted to compare these two seemingly very different artistic works. Barbie comes to the same conclusion that Tithonus reached, i.e., endless repetition can become boring at best and stifling at worst. So Barbie embraces change and agency even if that means she will die eventually. Much has been said about how feminist the movie is, and I agree wholeheartedly. I also love hearing the old lesbian singers, Indigo Girls, giving us sing their famous song as background for a character created originally to be super feminine and mindless.

The movie, however, also bravely asserts that there are worse things than dying. Barbie gradually comes to grasp that one thing worse than death is eternal fluffiness. So, like her Victorian counterpart, she swaps empty control for a chance at genuine connection and sharing. And her movie ends by her going to one of the most female places possible–a gynecologist’s office. Maybe Tithonus chose to visit an old English pub as his initial activity once freed from immortality. May his cold feet have found warmth just as Barbie is finding genuine womanhood.