Spilled Ink

Week 12

Jo’s watching

Barbie in the Nutcracker (2001)

There’s a lot of shit talked about Barbie, especially by young guys on YouTube. What they fail to acknowledge is the absolute brilliance of the cinematic masterpieces that are Barbie movies. With the new Margot Robbie Barbie now out on Netflix, I’d like to end my final Devour piece by bringing us back to the OG Barbie film released in 2001.  

This movie features music based on Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet and begins with Barbie and Kelly practising for their ballet recital.  

‘I’m never going to get all these steps right, Barbie,’ Kelly says.
‘If we keep practicing you will… you just have to have the courage to try, like Clara,’ Barbie says.  

This scene expertly leads into Clara’s story, showing us Barbie starring in The Nutcracker, and establishing a world where Barbie can play princesses and other classical characters throughout all of history, time, and space. It also establishes the underlying message for Kelly to take from this story: like Clara, she should try her best.  

Within the first five minutes, we care for Clara. Both of her parents are dead and she cares for her little brother with so much compassion (even after he breaks her stuff—I’d be furious). This is an excellent plot device to use; the audience feels attached to the main character and we’re aware of her inner wound immediately. Another great literary implement, that I feel should be utilised in kids’ films like this one, is when a side-character directly states what the protagonist needs in their life.  

For Clara, this is done through Aunt Drosselmayer, who enters with open arms, a high-collared red dress and lipstick, and states, ‘I met an Emperor, I sailed on a junk, I had my first rickshaw ride, and I hiked the Great Wall of China,’
to which Clara’s uncle replies, ‘I’d appreciate it, Elizabeth, if you’d stop filling Clara’s head with your stories.’ Apparently, she’s not a “sensible person” because she’s inclined to ‘Go traipsing all over the globe rather than stay put’.
But Elizabeth Drosselmayer finishes this exchange with dialogue that foreshadows what Clara will have gained by the end of the film: ‘There’s a world full of wonders out there… Clara deserves to experience them.’ Coincidentally, Aunt Drosselmayer is also who gives Clara and her brother the Nutcracker, Captain Candy, and Major Mint dolls—the main characters of Clara’s dreams.  

It’s incredible how this tale is a film featuring Barbie, starring in a story inside a story, in which she’s in a dream—and that it somehow makes sense, which is the really insane feat here.  

There is so much to unpack about Barbie, its laws and interconnections, and the wider Barbie Cinematic Universe (BCU), for which every fan has their own theories and running narratives. What I think is great about this Barbie in the Nutcracker is the establishment of Barbie’s character, which I would like to address following Brandon Sanderson’s Character Scales.  

The scale ranks characters based on their likeability, competence, and proactivity. The interesting thing about Barbie is how high she ranks in all three, when even most beloved characters only have a high score in one or two areas. Her likability, if we were to rank it out of ten, is always ten (except for a few movies such as Barbie in a Christmas Carol where she mimics Ebenezer Scrooge—her range is incredible). Despite being competent across a range of skills, proactive, and likeable, she’s still such a beloved character. Any writing course will tell you that characters need flaws to be seen as believable. I think this is the utter joy of kids’ films; audiences made up of children haven’t yet seen the flaws of humanity, and still believe that an adult such as Barbie has the capacity to be perfectly capable and motivated and good. They wholeheartedly believe that they might grow up to exhibit Barbie’s same compassion, versatile skills (including being a mermaid, a faerie, or a ballerina), and that they’ll take charge of their own adventures. 

Although I doubt many will have an interest in this, my ultimate goal is to watch each of the Barbie movies in order of their release and post the experience on my YouTube channel. I want to critique them based on their literary merit and extravagant cinematic execution. If you enjoyed this, please consider following my channel @JosephineRenee for more Barbie analysis in the future, and maybe even more Devour pieces. 

You can watch most of the Barbie movies on Stan. 


Olivia’s reading

like blood on the mouths of death by Victor Forna

Content Warning: Death

This week’s reading is a short but powerful one. Our main character, a child, sees child-sized figures with raffia fronds for skin always lurking around Mama, who is sick. Mama says it’s okay, to ignore them. But, piece by piece, the creatures eat her Mama. First, they eat her hair over four months. When it’s all gone, they move on to her face. They slowly devour her. All the while, Mama tells her child that it’s fine, that everything will be okay.  

like blood on the mouths of death is about death and dying, about how difficult it is to talk about these things, about hiding them to protect those we care about, and about how keeping them secret can hurt too. It’s about how behaviours and cycles are passed down through generations. 

It’s a bitter, beautiful read. Find it in Issue 140 of Nightmare Magazine or check out the magazine’s website where the story will be available to read after the 22nd of May (North American date). https://www.nightmare-magazine.com/  

Callum’s listening

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem (in D minor)

Content Warning: Terrible screenwriting and horrible interpretation

I told my friend Sean about this, and his only response was, “Hmm, interesting, I guess.” From me to you, a terrible writer to a good one <3


‘Even when ill, the artist continues to compose, sheet after sheet, day after day.’ 

In the opening set, Mozart is half asleep in his armchair, sheets of music covering the ground, quill in hand. Half of the candles have burned out, and the flicker of flames casts shadows across the room. The air is stale from the stink of a man who hasn’t left the room in months. Pillows and sheets are scattered across the room from the rage of last night’s writing.  


‘As last light burns, ink dries in spots and splashes down blankets and paper.’ 

As he stirs in his sleep, Mozart’s slight jolts and fits can be heard. Footsteps echo down the hall with his wife’s arrival, and shadows continue to dance throughout the room. 


‘She finds herself coming home to darkness most nights; her husband can no longer reach the abundance of candles left around the room.’ 

Constanze opens the door to find Mozart asleep in his lounge. The rush of fresh air blowing on the flames causes shadows to dance quickly. She sees the spilled ink and papers strewn across the room, covering her husband. She picks up each item and looks at Mozart’s strange figure beneath the blankets. 


‘His face and body resemble only a fragment of the man he once was and of a man he will never be again.’ 

Constanze notices he isn’t breathing. She drops the items she has collected and reaches for his hand. The coldness makes her gasp, and she steps back suddenly. Her other hand darts to her mouth as she moves away from Mozart. She runs for the door, looking to find a doctor. 


‘What sadness has befallen the Mozart home, to leave a widow with nothing but her sadness, and an unfinished, yet promised, work.’ 

Before Constanze returns with the doctor, the room falls into complete darkness. The doctor strikes a match and asks Constanze to bring more candles. He kneels beside Mozart and reaches for his hand. The doctor frowns and moves to the neck to find no sign of life. Constanze returns with more candles, and the room regains light. Neighbours and friends fill in, watching over the doctor’s shoulder.  


‘Were they worried for the man’s health or more concerned about the loss of music that lay unfinished at a dead man’s feet?’ 

People crowd around Mozart, who is slumped over and half hanging from the lounge. Friends, family, and his wife, Constanze, begin to pick up all the sheet music that isn’t destroyed. They compile them into stacks and pass them on to one another, unable to make sense of what has been created. 


‘A requiem made solely for another has been inherited by the one who created it.’ 

Callum Ross-Rowland (he/him) is a Brisbane-based creative writing student at QUT. He was 2023 Literary Salon’s Photographer with his recent Diploma in Photo Imaging from Billy Blue (Torrens). He was recently shortlisted for Photographer of the year in the Animal and Nature category and regularly photographs for Artful Heads magazine where he captures portraits of artists from different mediums. Find him on Instagram @alrightatart.

Josephine Renee (she/her) is a 23-year-old Meanjin author majoring in creative writing at QUT. She is the Brisbane Writers Festival 2024 Youth Ambassador and a co-president of the QUT Literary Salon, as well as the 2023 recipient of the Kellie van Meurs Memorial Scholarship. She has travelled Europe for two years, spent a year and a half in North America, and recently returned from Paris. When not gaining worldbuilding inspiration, she dedicates her time to writing and illustrating. She has work published in WhyNot, ScratchThat Magazine, and Glass Magazine. Find her on Instagram @josephine_renee_official or at josephinerenee.com.

Olivia J Pryor (She/They) is a 25-year-old Meanjin based queer trans woman writer in her final year of studying creative writing at QUT. She is a lover of speculative fiction in all its forms: sci-fi; fantasy; horror; weird fiction and others, but still enjoys reading, watching, and listening to media in all genres and forms. She cares deeply about marginalised voices in the arts, particularly queer and trans women.


Logo created by Josephine Renee

Art created by Sophie Gollant


Sophie Gollant (she/her) is marked by her earnest oil paintings and photographs of earthly, isolated scenes. Sophie’s practice is steeped in metaphors and motifs that earnestly draw on her experiences of womanhood, chronic illness, and solitude.

Instagram: @soggolla