Greene Screene: Barbarella
“It’s all fucking cool. Everything’s perfect.” — my wife
If you don’t take my wife’s word for it, allow me to extoll the many virtues of Jane Fonda’s Barbarella, a not-quite-feminist-but-way-more-progressive-than-you’d-think delight full of unforgettable dialogue and bewilderingly hairy, shiny and sexy Paco Rabane costumes sure to cause magnetic disturbances across the galaxy.
Yes, Jane Fonda somehow makes a skunk costume and all manner of furry fantasies super hot. But she’s also a badass astronaut from Earth [contrasting the male-dominated space race of the time] sent to a distant planet “living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility” to recover Dr. Durand Durand (yes, the inspiration for the band Duran Duran’s name) and prevent the monstrous positronic ray from shattering the unity of the universe. Still with me?
Barbarella soon finds herself in a barbaric world that still copulates in the traditional sense. “You don’t even know my psychocardiogram,” Barbarella says when the Catchman, a man in a hairy bear suit (who is hilariously just as hairy outside of the garb) suggests intercourse.
Yes, the film often has the swanky tenor of a classic porno, but as Barbarella herself says, “My name isn’t Pretty Pretty, it’s Barbarella.” She has the power in nearly every scene. She’s sexy, she knows it, and her journey is one of sexual empowerment as she experiments without a psychocardiogram.
This convoluted journey also takes her into the wings of an impotent, blind angel with a literal nest named Pygar who’s lost the will to fly, the conveniently helpful Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau!), to a showdown with The Great Tyrant who is not a man but The Black Queen of Sogo, all culminating in a visit to The Chamber of Ultimate Solution and a quite literal mindfuck. If you don’t like the sound of that or a dizzying array of horns, feathers and furs (“I’ve gotta get rid of this tail!”), you’re likely not alone, but I’m also truly sorry.
We live in a puritanical society so judgmental and afraid of sex — it’s bad, shameful. Girls can either be the girl next door or the slut. Boys are playboys or 40-year-old virgins. We repress our thoughts, our fantasies, so of course we can’t talk about them. Throughout the film, creatures and even children with overactive teeth are constantly gnawing at Barbarella, attempting to devour her, as we so often devour women brave enough to express themselves sexually.
But Barbarella doesn’t let the negative psychic vibrations of the positronic ray devour her. This is a movie where everyone greets each other with love. Upon meeting someone new, Barbarella delivers an open-handed Spock-like salute and says, “Love,” which the other party repeats back. In a world searching for a handshake replacement, the answer has been in the stars all along. “A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming,” Barbarella wisely observes, but we’re better off beginning with love.