Sucker Punch I was sure it was going to be complete dreck. I thought I'd be subjected to non-stop scenes of violence perpetrated against women and/or an incomprehensible mess of a plot. What I found instead was a movie that I think was completely misunderstood by most of its audience.
Part of what compelled me to review "Sucker Punch" was all the hate directed at it. I can't say I've loved all of Zack Snyder's films myself but I do know that his movies have been well received in the past. I found myself wondering what entertainment faux pas was committed by Snyder to put the bullseye on his back-- and I think I figured it out. This isn't a movie for teenage boys. In fact, I'd argue that women are more likely to understand what Snyder was going for here.
Baby Doll (the heartbreakingly beautiful Emily Browning) is brought to a mental institution after an altercation with her sleazy stepfather results in the death of her younger sister. She learns that she has five days until a doctor (John Hamm) is brought in to give her a lobotomy. Like many people who are the victims of trauma or abuse Baby Doll retreats to an imaginary world to cope with her circumstances.
There are two fantasy worlds that figure into Baby Doll's imagination. The first layer is one in which she imagines that she has been brought into a brothel, disguised as a burlesque theater, that is run by Blue (Oscar Isaac). Each girl is taught to dance and told by their dance instructor (the 'real-life' psychiatrist) Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) that their best chance of survival is to prove useful by being able to dance. When prompted to dance Baby Doll finds herself transported to yet another world where she is told by the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) that she will need five objects to escape and sends her on a quest that exists in both the brothel and the hyper-reality of the second dream.
When Baby Doll awakens from her dream with the Wise Man she finds out that her dance is so compelling that no one can look away while she dances. So she enlists the help of the other girls in the asylum to track down the needed objects while Baby Doll keeps the men distracted. The other girls include Rocket (Jenna Malone), her sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). Rocket has a special affinity with Baby Doll after she is saved by Baby during an attack by the cook at the asylum. Her sister, Sweet Pea, reluctantly agrees to the plan on the condition that the girls abandon their scheme if things get too dangerous.
After the set-up the film then moves into stylized action sequence portion of the story. As each girl sneaks away to steal the items for their escape, Baby Doll begins her dance and enters the fantasy world in which she and the rest of the girls go to battle. They fight mechanized German soldiers, slay dragons, fly in warships and attack flying machines straight out of a steampunk drawing. It's a slow moving, ethereal feast for the eyes.
Most reviews I've read are frequently punctuated with accusations of misogyny because Baby Doll envisions herself in a brothel for much of the film. The critics say what kind of movie about female empowerment has the women dress up in skimpy outfits and work as prostitutes? The mistake these reviews make is that they think this is supposed to be about female empowerment.
Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I'm an expert on misogyny-- no more so than any other woman. But I know what it's like to live the female experience. I know that no matter how many on-screen fictions we see in which women plow through the enemy, we cannot so easily deal with external threats from men. We are physically at the mercy of a gender that is much stronger than us and most women worldwide are not as fortunate as us who live in the westernized world. We may have the benefit of "No Means No" campaigns, but how well do you think that would go over in Middle Eastern cultures that are strongly male oriented? And if we, as women, were so able to fight back as our entertainment would have us believe we could, would we need those kind of campaigns in the first place?
These are the things I think of when I watch "Sucker Punch." These women are not empowered; nor are they destined to become so. They are helpless and at the mercy of the men who rule their world. It's not that Baby Doll wants to be in a brothel, but it's a concept she can use. As a woman in a hopeless situation, the only ammunition she has is her sexuality. And despite all the cries of objectification! there is nothing explicit about "Sucker Punch." We aren't subjected to rape scenes because they are never brought to fulfillment. That's right; no one is actually raped. No one is prancing around nude either. In that context I can't help but wonder what the *real* cause of all the nonsense accusations of women-hating this movie has drawn because I never hear any of these people complain when women are trotted out as eye-candy in films like "XXX" in which a women is shown gyrating on a bed purely for the entertainment of the hero of the film as a sexual prop. Did I somehow miss the outcry? How many people complaining about this turn off the TV in disgust when James Bond has his latest casual fling with a woman with a semi-obscene name?
I think the sin that was committed by "Sucker Punch" is that it wasn't a revenge fantasy. It wasn't a movie that delivered the "proper" ending. It was about the way women survive when they're out of options. The sacrifices they make and the things they will endure are not the action oriented themes that I'd guess the audience for this film were expecting. I can understand the complaints that center around the lack of character development; that's fair. And if you thought it was slow-- I can accept that. But saying it's sexist is not something I can let stand without opposition. And when you get right down to it, the women fare much better than the men in terms of characterization. The women are empathetic and seeing their suffering is hard-- and it makes the men look even worse in comparison. And I think that's the real itch that can't be scratched in terms of why this film isn't universally liked. Rather than purely entertain, it makes some people uncomfortable.
I'm used to going against the grain when it comes to films in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. I didn't get the hoopla over "Avatar" and, though I liked "Inception," I don't go into fits of ecstasy at the mere mention of its name. So take my opinion with a grain of salt- but I liked "Sucker Punch." As well I might like a movie told from a woman's point-of-view. One that borrows more from something like "Moulin Rouge" than "300." I don't know if I can say this is a "woman's" film because you have to be a certain kind of woman to appreciate an action film with a feminine perspective--and I guess I'm that kind of girl.