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Sucker Punch

Posted on Mar 24, 2011 by | 4 comments

I’ve anticipated a lot of films over the years, films that sometimes exceed my wildest dreams and some that do their very best to shatter them into a thousand pieces, such is the nature of expectation. Its a risky proposal that seems to inevitably lead to disappointment, that is, except when it doesn’t. But people don’t like to talk about that sordid side of expectation, they’d rather focus on the other party’s failures to meet there’s.

Sucker Punch is a film that placed incredible expectations on its audience years ahead of its premiere. Promising giant samurais, gianter machine guns and mechs and still even giantest dragons it was a film seemingly after every fanboy’s heart. Then you start watching the film and you quickly realize the film isn’t really trying to cater to fanboy’s, but rather not so subtlety mocking them.

Baby Doll has done a bad thing. She’s defended the health and wealth of her little sister from her wicked step-father, a man who when spurned by his advances on her estate (both literal and fictional) promptly has her institutionalized so that he might live out the rest of his days in the comforts he so richly doesn’t deserve. Even worse, Baby Doll only has five days before she losses the only thing she has left, her sanity.

Sucker Punch is a film that is incredibly easy to write off at face value, in fact, I’m quite sure it will be by most people. The film rolls out every cliché and trope in the proverbial book, resulting in a film that seemingly massages the fanboy’s need for hyper-sexualized violence and ass-kickery at the hands of bare bottomed buxom babes. Do they need to be in fishnets, stockings, bustiers and school girl uniforms? Well, in a word, yes. But not for the reasons you think they do.

Every aspect of Sucker Punch is hyper-sexualized, and that’s kind of the point, but titillation most certainly is not. The film doesn’t glorify their sex appeal, in spite of the fact that it practically bathes the viewer in it. The most obvious acts of sex are always kept off-screen, safely hidden away from prying eyes, and this goes for the rape and abuses the characters must endure as well as the provocations their job requires. Sucker Punch doesn’t really care about the sex, rather the fallout that occurs from it.

It is that fact which makes Sucker Punch such an interesting and complex film. Its taking a risk in decrying the hyper-sexual nature of not only male-oriented action and fantasy films, but of pop culture itself by overly indulging in it. Less discerning viewers will simply write off the excess (often patting themselves on the back for it) while steadfastly refusing to examine for even a second just why Sucker Punch makes the choices it does.

Why do the girls enter into an escapist reality? To deal with the abuses that are handed out to them on a routine basis. If you are sexually assaulted, as these girls most assuredly are, then it’s easy to see why their escapist fantasy is in a world where sex equates to power, and one where they at least have a modicum of control on that power. From there they enter into yet another counter-reality, this time where that sexual power is fully exploited as the tie that binds them to their inner wants and desires (which is freedom, not sex). They escaped this world of wanton sex and depravity in increments that led to their virtual paradise. A paradise where sex is the ultimate power, and they were finally the ones fully in control.

Alan Moore explored a very similar concept with his trilogy of Lost Girls stories, which explored how three iconic storybook characters (Alice, Wendy and Dorothy) all dealt with X-rated sexual exploits by crafting them into a dreamlike fantasy narrative that would become the stories we now know as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. It’s a brilliant bit of story-retelling, and because Moore co-wrote the books with his longtime female life partner Melinda Gebbie, has escaped most criticism involving the work being nothing more than masturbatory male fantasy. Unfortunately for Zach Snyder, he has neither a female co-hort to extinguish such facile critiques, or the story telling skills of Moore to help clearly illustrate the goals of the film.

Sucker Punch is far from a perfect film, and I think it is quite worthy of critiques that it might not even be a good film, but to dismiss the film as nothing more than masturbatory fantasy is an acknowledgement of such a viewer of their inability to see the forest for the trees.

You see, Sucker Punch is a satire on action films. Its excess is to such extremes that it gleefully glides into the this realm. The heroines, all one note and pristine, have managed to single handedly attack the concept of the manic pixie dream girl, so prevalent in films that take such storylines far too seriously in other films, and miraculously replaced her with something far more entertainingly ridiculous, the blond stripper Jesus. From there it even takes the time to debase the male gender far more than it titillates it.

The men in Sucker Punch are without questions a vile sub-race of human, incapable of controlling even the slightest of sexual urges, and perhaps even worse, unwilling to shower or take even a moment out of their day for a quick mani and pedi. I mean really, how gauche. But it is in the treatment of the men that Sucker Punch reveals that it isn’t quite the easy to dismiss film that calloused viewers might assume that it is. The men are the true victims in one note treatment in this film, as none have a single bit of arc, and most often are only identifiable by the instrument they carry that will serve the women in the story. They are empty, soulless vessels, all working in favor of the blond stripper Jesus, who has no intention of saving their souls, for their souls are without merit.

For you see if you want to lambast Sucker Punch for its treatment of women as sexual objects, then you must allow yourself to view its treatment of men as sexual objectifiers, and when they are both taken to such absurd extremes (the men are powerless when put face to face with the raw sexual energy that is the roaring woman) it becomes rather obvious that it is the male gender that is treated the most poorly of the two, thus the outrage and scorn for the treatment of women seems painfully obtuse. Unless of course the criticism is that women can’t be treated like sexual objects but its fine if men are, which is, quite frankly, phenomenally stupid. But when you juxtapose Sucker Punch against the base assumption of what the male-driven action film is supposed to be in Hollywood, you see a film that is clearly elevating the genre to new levels of debauchery.

The blond stripper Jesus, the goddess of the new flesh, has become the symbol by which Sucker Punch carefully lays outs its audacious cards. The film is attacking fanboy mentalities by engaging them head on with their own perverted view of the cinematic landscape. Its a gallinging gutsy take that should be applauded rather than reviled. Sucker Punch has no intention of treating action films as some playground where you can simply turn off your brain and enjoy the macabre, but rather it wants to use those tools of hyper-sexuality to push you out of your comfort zone and revile in the virtual landscape of the pop art it has splayed onto the silver screen.

Even more audacious is the ending monologue of the film, which extolls upon the viewer the opportunity to take what they have learned of excess and to use those weapons to fight against it. Even more interesting, is the repeated use of reflections in the lense throughout the film, which cast aspertions on if the protagonist’s view of the world even truly exists, or if it is actually an extension of the viewers own subconcious. For you see, it is the people who watch these films that allow their message to gain power, and by Sucker Punch turning the looking glass on them it is attempting to force the new flesh to finally think about the information they ingest and discard. Sucker Punch doesn’t want you to revel in the glory of the blond stripper Jesus, it wants you to destroy it.

Matt Gamble
I review movies. I run a movie theatre. I annoy people. I let my dogs lick my face whenever they want. Sometimes I'm even a halfway decent human.
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  1. If I’m not mistaken, the studio forced a PG 13 cut. I bet the R cut (Snyder) has various explicit, sexual scenes.

    I can’t give Snyder the benefit of the doubt — just look at his awful filmography! Snyder doesn’t strike me as a cerebral, self aware filmmaker.

  2. Yeah, the studio cut out several several scenes, and specifically a sex scene between Baby Doll and John Hamm (the person who Kurt claims is the one decent non-sexual male).

    I think he’s cerebral and self-aware, but I think his storytelling skills simply aren’t strong enough to match his ambition. Their is genius in Sucker Punch, but it is buried under a massive amount of visual diarrhea that can make it easy to write off the subtext, which is a shame. The film truly is an intersting work and worthy of discussion as it explores some very interesting and controversial areas.

  3. I think it’s becoming clear at this point that Snyder wants to be Alan Moore, an autuer that wants to use formalism in his use of the medium, but he doesn’t really have the chops for it. Give him something visceral and not too deep, and he’ll make a stylish movie. Have him try to mesh his visual skills with an underlying intellectual theme and he’s out of his depth.

    Which is a shame, because we need more action directors that don’t want to be the next Michael Bay. That said, he’s probably the right choice for a straightforward Superman movie.

    • I think you’ve really nailed it Robert. I have a hard time knocking a film/director who clearly is trying so hard to break out of the standard mold for the action film even if it might ultimately fail. That genre is so tired that in this instance the effort really and truly does count.

      Though I think paired with a strong enough screenwriter, Snyder is actually capable of making an amazing, and possibly revolutionary, action film. I know I wouldn’t have thought that after Dawn and 300. So he is making some progress as a director.

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