Barbarella; My Pretty Pretty Pretty
The cult classic Barbarella shows us that the 41st Century is as groovy as the 1960’s, except on Earth, there is no war. The only weapons are in museums. Physical “relations” are no longer. They now involve taking exultation transference pellets and touching palms. However, despite the utopia, the earth still needs a hero to find a missing scientist who may be developing a superweapon called the positronic ray, which could introduce war back to the planet. Fortunately for the world, we have Barbarella (played by a young, vivacious Jane Fonda) traveling in her fur-lined spaceship awaiting her orders.
Barbarella herself is a mixture of Mr. Rogers, and Dorothy, of Oz fame, all stuffed tightly in a Brigitte Bardot-like body. She’s a futuristic hippy who believes in the power of love. We first meet Barbarella during a zero-gravity striptease for no one, before a video call from the President of Earth sends our heroine in search of the missing Dr. Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea). Her only lead is that the doctor’s ship disappeared somewhere in the Tau Ceti system. Our story begins.
Along the way, she crashes her ship on Planet 16. She is captured by feral children with metal vampire dolls that snack on her. A very furry manly-man rescues her. Barbarella wants to thank him, and he chooses the way of the ancients. She is an instant fan of physical lovemaking. She gets the tail of her fur caught in things. She constantly changes clothes. She meets a handsome blind angel named Pygar (John Phillip Law) who has lost his will to fly. Naturally, a little mating in his nest with our sex-kitten savior cures that. There are battles with hollow leather soldiers. There’s a good scientist named Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau). She enters the city of SoGo. We meet the bi-sexual Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg) who thinks Barbarella is her “pretty pretty pretty.” A lot of kinky looking things going on in the background. She learns about the Matmos, living energy in liquid form, powered by evil thoughts. Parakeets peck at her. She takes a hit of the essence of man from a hookah pipe with a guy swimming inside. There’s Dildano (David Hemmings), the hero of the revolution with whom she has hair-raising, pill-popping, palm sex. Then there is the pièce de résistance, the Excessive Machine, a pipe organ played by the tyrant’s concierge with Barbarella inside. It spits out her clothes and plays her in an attempt to orgasm her to death (How long would the waiting line be?). Does she find the doctor? Does she survive?
The film is sci-fi, campy fun. Our doe-eyed heroine is open, innocent, and bright. Barbarella defeats everyone who seeks to control her, confronting the sadism of her captors with goodwill and negotiating her terms for physical pleasure. No matter what, (excuse the pun) she seems to come out on top.
There are endless discussions on whether the film is sexploitation or has a feminist message. I will leave that up to the viewer. I do know that I thought Jane Fonda played the deadpan comic role perfectly. If you find that you are able to endure the cheesy lounge music soundtrack, and don’t take it all too seriously, you may find yourself being entertained.
Did You Know?
- The band Duran Duran took their name from the character Dr. Durand Durand?
- The film is based on the french comic series of the same name by Jean-Claude Forest.
- Barbarella’s appearance is inspired by Brigitte Bardot
- In the film, Dildano uses the password “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,” which is the name of a real village in Wales, United Kingdom.
- The city of SoGo is an Old Testament Biblical reference to the cities Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Inside Barbarella’s ship hangs a replica of the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by painter Georges Seurat.
- Ariana Grande’s video for “Break Free” was inspired by the film.
- Kylie Minogue recreated the infamous zero-gravity strip-tease in her award winning 1994 video for “Put Yourself in My Place.”
- Legendary French Mime Marcel Marceau who played Professor Ping.