Saturday, March 26, 2011

Analysis of Sucker Punch - A Feminist Perspective

Sucker Punch was released this weekend to extremely negative reviews, with a score of 36% on Metacritic, and an abysmal 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. You can't set expectations much lower than that, yet I enjoyed every minute of this film.  I am still thinking about it this morning, and all its implications, hence this blog post.

I will start with a non-spoilery review, and then launch into a detailed analysis of Sucker Punch from a feminist perspective. 

I know why critics did not like this film.  And so in this review, I will tell you what you need to bring with you, so you can enjoy the film as much as I did.

First, watch this trailer.  It is the best of the trailers, and gives you a good setup to help you understand what is going on.  It is a deeply-psychological movie, in the tradition of David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) and Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich).  Additionally, it is a "layer" film, like Inception or The Matrix -- there are multiple versions of reality.  Armed with that knowledge, you should be able to suspend disbelief, sit back, and go with it.  No part of you should be screaming "That would never happen!", because when you're inside someone's mind, anything can happen.

That said, the fantasy action sequences should not be considered gratuitous.  This movie illustrates how the human mind deals with severe trauma in order to survive.  If you have a basic understanding of dissociation -- the idea that the mind can detach from reality in order to not experience pain -- the entire premise is not only plausible, but meaningful.

You are joining a girl's fantasy, created to protect her mind from the terrors she will experience in a mental institution in the early 20th century.  Unlike Lynch's Mulholland Drive, (Salon.com analysis here), the narrative is well-portrayed in a chronological, clear storyline.  It is easy to follow if you understand the premise at the outset.

In other words, be prepared to take certain parts of the film unseriously.  Enjoy the ride.  Take other parts very seriously.

It helps to have seen a number of darker comic book movies like 300 and Sin City, as well as a few over-the-top kung-fu movies like Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers.  Being familiar with Japanese animation will also help.  Snyder very much captures the feel of all three genres.

A basic understanding of feminist issues will also contribute greatly to your enjoyment of this film.  When the credits rolled, I said: "This film is a summary of the experience of women throughout the 20th century."  My hope is that women will have a better time of things in the 21st.  In the meantime, this film has much to teach the ignorant about the plight of women.  It is a primer.  If you think feminists are a bunch of angry women who whine for no reason, or bra-burning dykes seeking revenge against males, go see Sucker Punch, and then come back and read my analysis.

Lastly, be prepared for a very dark story.  It crosses some barriers of what's "ok" to do in a movie plot.  Be prepared to let go of your notions, because much like another Zack Snyder flick, The Watchmen, this film is unafraid of revealing harsh reality in a fictional guise.

If you are a writer or connoisseur of storytelling, and have not seen the film, refresh your memory of the Hero's Journey before viewing.  It follows the steps very closely, and it was a joy to watch this unfold.  There is perhaps, arguably, even a meta-Hero's Journey, which I mention with a bit more detail in the spoilery section.

Many critics slammed the acting, but I enjoyed the actors.  Somehow Emily Browning (Baby Doll) captures the essence and spirit of an Japanese anime schoolgirl, even though nothing about her looks Japanese.  She manages to pull it off in spite of her Scandinavian eyes and too-blond hair.  She fills the rest of the film with soulfull looks that seem to tap the heart and the "ethereal beauty" centers of the brain.

Those reviewers who did not understand the psychological premise, or those who were unfamiliar with or do not like the genres listed above, may have thought the film incomprehensible or over-the-top.  But mostly, critics hated it because they did not have the feminist context through which to interpret this film.  It breaks certain rules and exagerates certain norms, the combination of which I believe many people would find disturbing or nonsensical.

If good stories examine the human condition, then this is one of the best.

Now, go see it, and then read my analysis.

Warning: Here There Be Dragons Spoilers

This movie tells the tale of a girl placed in a mental institution in the 1950's.  Really, it could be set at any time from 1890-1970, which is why the fashions and sets contain so many anachronisms.  The essential structure of the plot actually happened to tens of thousands of people, particularly women, through that time (and before).  All it took was an accusation of insanity by a significant male (father, husband, brother, doctor), which would typically go unquestioned, and a woman could find herself in Baby Doll's place: Committed to an institution rife with mental, physical, and sexual abuse.  Not only that, she is on schedule to receive a lobotomy.

If you accept that this tragic premise is so true, so incredibly real -- if you understand the history of these women, who were entirely powerless and could do nothing but try to cope -- then you can understand the rest of the film.  It also helps to note that while the psychiatry field has been "cleaned up" in recent decades, and rarely perpetuates these abuses, this reality of powerless women still exists in many other areas of life, even here in America.

Then we are faced with two layers of Baby Doll's fantasy world.  In one, she is being placed not in an institution, but in a 1930's bordello.  In fact, some part of me wondered if that was her "true" reality, since this is the layer we are most frequently return to.  The rape subtext implied in the institution is replaced with ownership-prostitution, and we see that there aren't many differences.  In both they are powerless, in both they are used, in both they are treated like objects. 

And in both, with no other tools (or "weapons" as the film euphamistically calls them), they are forced to use their sexuality to attempt escape.

This is a shocking fact that many movie-goers do not wish to face.  Women should not have to use their sexuality to get what they want, but the sad reality is, women with no other options must and will use their bodies.  And for doing what they must, they are later harshly criticized, and sometimes further victimized, for doing so.  It is the last choice available for Baby Doll and her friends, and so they take it.

When Baby Doll dances to distract her captors, we never get to see her moves.  She dissociates from a distasteful, unpleasant use of her body, the way many victims of sexual assault do to survive the physical and emotional pain.  (And I wonder if "dancing" in the bordello layer is an escape from sex on the institution layer.)  Her form of dissociation plunges her into a third layer of fantasy, wherein she is a powerful warrior equipped with a katana and pistol.  Here she is capable of destroying dragons and twenty-foot demon samurai.  Her sexual power transforms into real power.  The other girls are likewise equipped with symbols of male power: machine guns, shotguns, knives, swords, and perhaps most threatening of all (to the male hierarchy), technical expertise with helicopters and airplanes.

Yet the women are still sexualized in their scanty outfits, which one reviewer called an unzipped geek-boy fantasy.  Even here, Baby Doll cannot shake the sexual roots of the power she is using in the "real world".  She may be defeating steam-zombies and high-tech robots with impossible slow-mo battle moves, but in reality she is just shaking her booty to distract the men so the other girls can gather the tools of escape.

Reviewers can blame the writer and director for the situation these girls are in, but Zack Snyder merely holds a mirror up to our own society.  (I believe the The Social Network intended the same thing, when every single woman in that film (with one exception) was brutally objectified.)  Many don't like what they see, and even fewer understand, and so they are left squirming, vaguely aware that something is not right.  But when one in four women in America are sexually assaulted, many before the age of 18, we need to make films, (and yes, even PG-13 films with glossed-over details), to expose the seriousness of these crimes towards women.  (More rape statistics here.)

Perhaps, like Baby Doll, society itself likes to dissociate, fantasizing of a world in which women are happy with their lot, where females are really powerful, and where rape doesn't exist or doesn't hurt anyone.  We want our movies to support these fantasies, and when they do not, like in Sucker Punch, we fail to comprehend it and criticize it as done by a "filmmaker who has absolutely nothing original or even coherent to say." (New York Post review)  And yet this is one of the most original and thought-provoking movies I've seen all year.  I would expect those ignorant of white male privilege to be blind to its merits.

Even at the end of the film, when Sweet Pea boards the bus to freedom, it is only by the grace of a male that she gets away.  After all that work, she must still pass a male gatekeeper, who knows nothing about her, yet through the kindness of his heart, lies to the police and lets her get on the bus without paying for a ticket. 

Like The Social Network, there is but one powerful woman in this movie.  And she is the psychiatrist, Dr. Gorsky.  Yet even her power is subjugated through the "good old boys network" run by an evil orderly, who falsifies signatures and takes money from men to get rid of troublesome girls.  Once she learns of this racket, she has the ultimate authority and has Blue arrested.  Yet she is incapable of saving Baby Doll or any of the other girls from their tragic fates.  Her powerlessness is reflected on the bordello level of reality... There she plays a harsh Madam supposedly in control of the girls, but we soon learn that she is just as owned by the club-owner as they are.

Even in their fantasy world, they are aided through the missions by a male "commander", Wise Man, who takes not only a mentor role, but also that of an officer, a superior.  Even equipped with weapons and fighting skills, they cannot escape their roles in a male-dominated society.

The only "real" male who shows any sympathy for Baby Doll is the lobotomist, who displays a spark of regret for what he has done and calls attention (too late) to the falsified signature.  In a deleted scene, he also plays the High-Roller with whom Baby Doll has a loving sex scene -- but oddly, this was cut in order to give the film its PG-13 rating.  The one time Baby Doll has control of her sexuality, using it willingly and for her own pleasure, it is cut to make the movie more palatable for modern society.

By the end, Baby Doll must sacrifice herself to save one of her fellow women.  This further punctuates the story of American women throughout the last century -- lacking any other power, many women found themselves sacrificing their own comfort, freedom, or lives, for the sake of their sisters and children.  Or even for the sake of their men.  I'm talking about sacrifice of body, career, education, life choices; choices of who to marry, when to start a family, where to live, what political views to hold, what talents to pursue, whether to own property, when and who to have sex with, and so on.  In fact, Baby Doll's sacrifice is a sexual one: By revealing herself to the men on the bordello-level, she is sentenced to have sex with the High Roller.  (She defends herself ineffectively by kicking a man in the groin, a stark contrast to the fantasy world in which she kills a dragon with a sword.)  In reality, it means her mind will be destroyed through the act of lobotomy... She will be turned into a passive, submissive woman, so she can play her rightful role in society.

Many of the reviewers criticized Sucker Punch as a feminist revenge film.  But I simply cannot agree.  In the battle fantasies, not a single male human is killed.  Read that again.  Yes, they kill steam-powered German zombies.  Yes, they kill Orcs.  Yes, they kill robots.  Yes, they kill dragons.  Yes, they kill demons.  But it is no accident that the one chance Baby Doll has of killing a living human male (the map-courier in the German trenches), she refrains.  Instead of lancing him, she uses her sword to lift the map from his shoulders.

Even when Blue tries to rape Baby Doll, she stabs him, but not fatally.  He is still alive enough to attempt the rape again, this time post-lobotomy, when her last remaining defenses have been ripped away.  These women, even when they become ultimately powerful, do not use their powers for revenge. 

Many critics disparaged this film's PG-13 rating.  Michael Medved thought it should be NC-17.  Yet what was so challenging in this movie?  No sex.  No nudity.  Very little, if any, bad language.  Cartoon violence.  Very minimal use of blood (blood on her fingers when her sister dies, blood seeping through fabric from Blue's and Rocket's stab wounds).  NC-17, for that?

I will tell you what was so challenging in this movie, and these are not things the MPAA bases ratings on:

1. Women die.  Lots of women die.
2. Women have power.  Even if imaginary power, they have lots of it.
3. There is a subtext of rape.  Lots of rape.  It is never shown, in fact not even explicitly implied.  If you know what to look for, it is merely hinted at.
4. This movie displays the harsh realities of being a woman in this world.

While the MPAA couldn't find this offensive based on objective standards, many subjective reviewers did.  And that fact points not only to the ignorance society holds for these issues, but also to why movies like this are so desperately needed.

[A few side notes about the Hero's Journey and alternate interpretations of the ending: There is some guesswork as to whose reality we are viewing in the movie.  Roland suggested that we are actually seeing two hero's journeys, of both Baby Doll and Sweet Pea.  I began to argue, to point out that since the camera does not follow Sweet Pea, her journey, if she has one, is not being told.  He counter-pointed that Baby Doll is Sweat Pea's mentor/guru (Supernatural Aid); that the main character is actually Sweet Pea, telling her own story through Baby Doll's lens.  After all, Baby Doll does say "This is your story."  It is interesting to think about.

Alternately, the ending where we get to see Sweet Pea's final escape may in fact be Baby Doll's fantasy.  Perhaps Sweet Pea escapes, but from Baby Doll's point of view, she can only hope she makes it to the bus stop.  The lobotomized Baby Doll must now live entirely inside her head, and she chooses Sweet Pea's escape for her own "paradise".  This idea is supported by the fact that Wise Man is also the bus driver, someone none of them have ever seen before in the real world.]

This film stands at a historical cusp.  Whereas many films today reflect a girl-power can-do attitude of third-wave feminism, I think this is more of a wish than a reflection of how things are.  This film says, "This is how things were, and maybe how things still are, but the fantasy is the way things can be."  With its mix of female powerlessness and female power, it fits the zeitgeist of the confusion many women now feel about what role they should play.  Should I be like my mother or grandmother, exerting subtle manipulation as my only manifestation of action?  Or should I be a male-in-girl-clothes, sporting guns and killing toy soldiers like the generations of second- and third-wave feminists before me?

Perhaps the tragedy of this film shows us that both roles are dangerous and lead to an equally futile conclusion.  Perhaps we should throw away both the male and female "weapons" of the past, and forge new impliments of power.  Fourth-wave feminism, now in its fetal stage, seems to suggest that.

UPDATE: Zack Snyder gave an interview yesterday that adds more interesting insights.  It is worth reading in its entirety, but here are a couple of callouts:
Would you say the film is a critique on geek culture’s sexism?
It is, absolutely. I find it interesting, in a lot of ways, that this movie – of all the movies I’ve made – has been universally hated by fanboys. It’s like a fanboy indictment, in some ways. They can’t have fun with the geek culture sexual hang ups.

I thought it was basically you commenting on those attendants at Comic-Con who shout, “You’re hot!” at beautiful cast members.

Yeah! 100%. They don’t know how to be around it. It’s funny because someone one asked me about why I dressed the girls like that, and I said, “Do you not get the metaphor there? The girls are in a brothel performing for men in the dark. In the fantasy sequences, the men in the dark are us. The men in the dark are basically me; dorky sci-fi kids.”
There has been a gender divide on whether people like this film.  This goes along with what I said about society not wanting to pull down the curtain that protects their ignorant bliss.  Likewise, geek boys are faced with the reality that they may not be much different than the Mayor, watching Baby Doll dance on the stage.  They came to see a film about fighting girls with tits and asses, and while they're getting that, they're not allowed to be comfortable with their feelings.

It's a cruel bit of sadism on Snyder's part, and in a way, I almost feel bad for the geekboys... almost.  And in this sense, maybe it is a revenge film.  Revenge on the male audience.  (And saying so makes me feel uncomfortable, because I don't like to think of myself as a vengeful sort of woman.)
Is it wrong to enjoy seeing Babydoll in that school girl outfit, though?
I have no problem with this dichotomy as to why she is in the outfit. You can say what you want about the movie, but I did not shoot the girls in an exploitative way. They might be dressed sexually, but I didn’t shoot the movie to exploit their sexuality. There’s no close-ups of cleavage, or stuff like that. I really wanted it to be up to the viewer to feel those feelings or not. Does that make sense?
And the big reveal: Snyder didn't do anything to evoke that sense of sexuality other than dress the women in school girl outfits.  No intentional shots of the sort directors often make to add sex to the movie.  In other words, any turn-on felt by viewers is their own damn fault... or... maybe they can think, "she shouldn't have dressed that way".

As to how a man could capture the feel of the experience of being a woman so well... The truth is simple.  He stayed humble and gave the actresses their own voices:
Most female action heroines are generally very interchangeable with men. Can you talk about the process of finding that specific female voice?
As a man, you can only do what you can do as far as understanding the female psyche. I just tried to write as honestly as I could, so then the female actors would fill in the emotional blanks I left for them. I feel like the girls were really up to that and into that. I thought it was an interesting approach. A good example is when we did the scene where the girls were going to break out and they’re all saying “They’re in!” and they’re crying at the end of the scene. That’s not in the script, and that was just them. If I had written that, I probably would have thought it was cheesy and no one would cry at the end of the sequence.
This is a lesson that could be learned from self-described male feminists everywhere, one which some male feminists do well (like by boyfriend) -- but other well-meaning, condescending, protective men just manage to piss women off more.  If you want to truly understand why so many women are <insert "unreasonable" opinion or emotion here>, then listen to them.  Ask them.  Stop making assumptions to protect your own vulnerable status, and trust their perspective.

It is interesting then, that so many reviewers complained about the "poor acting", when I thought the acting was brilliant.  Maybe, like the film itself, the actresses were too honest.

Update 1/3/2012: Be sure to read on into the comments, as many of my readers continue to have fascinating insights and theories of their own.

77 comments:

  1. I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who saw the film this way! And I agree that critics are disturbed by it for the reasons you noted.

    I think it was Sweet Pea's story. If you look at it in the Jungian way, where every female character is an aspect of the protagonist (or as a multiple-personality trauma story), then Baby Doll is the part of Sweet Pea who copes with the abuse.

    And Baby Doll's unnamed sister, at the beginning, represents the death of innocence. And I think Amber, who was always driving something, was the autopilot mechanism who kept Sweet Pea moving forward. And Blondie was the part of her who was dumb enough to trust.

    Did you see abortion in the killing of the baby dragon, like I did?

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  2. Oh, I never thought of it from an MPD/DID angle. That's a great point -- that all five girls were the same character. That means when Rocket dies, the trusting, energetic part of her dies.

    I also didn't think of Jung, the four anima. Perhaps because there are five of them? But if one is "real" and the others are the animas, that makes sense. (Have you seen Twin Peaks? There's totally an anima/animus thing going on there, with the four girls and four evil men.)

    The baby dragon did not make me think of abortion. That doesn't really ring true for me, but that is one thing about films that touch the subconscious -- each person will take away something different based on their own subconscious symbolism.

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  3. The baby dragon seemed like the death of innocence to me, but that was before I saw Gwen's words about the Jungian thing. Whatever it was, it's important that they had to kill it in order to get to the crystals that represent, I think, some kind of creative force.

    A few things I noticed that I'm not sure how to fit into both of your readings:

    --Both Baby Doll and Sweet Pea are trying to protect a younger sister and end up getting her killed. Baby Doll when her bullet goes wild, and Sweet Pea when she wasn't fast/sneaky enough to get the knife without the chef seeing. Don't know what this means, but it stood out to me as the same story, playing out twice.

    --I can't get past the way that Baby Doll's dances are imagined as these epic violent battles AND that they entrance people so much that they don't know what's going on around them. I think the viewers can somehow see the story Baby Doll is living out in those fantasies, that there's some mix of sex and violence in her dance that just hypnotizes people. There's some kind of commentary there about our society as a whole, but also about the particular place in society women have, kind of at the meeting point of sex and violence. Or as attractors of sex and violence. Something like that.

    That last one probably doesn't make sense. It makes sense in my head. If I was more up on feminist critical theory terminology, I'd probably be able to explain it better.

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  4. I've noticed in talking this out with my family, and in these comments, that for many women (not me though) the baby and mother dragon really strikes a chord - not the same chord, but a loud, chiming chord. My girlfriend saw the mother dragon as symbol of women betraying of women, particularly that women will betray other women to protect their sons, no matter how horrible her sons have been. (He rests on top of a pile of human bones.) My daughter thought they should not have killed the baby dragon no matter what -- she sympathized with the mother-son relationship on a deeply emotional level.

    Regardless, it is useful to note that the dragon is the only clearly female creature attacked by the team of girls.

    I did notice the parallel of the sisters. I wasn't sure if it was merely artful foreshadowing (as a plot device or the fact that life sometimes just has patterns) or evidence that this is Sweet Pea/Baby Doll's story and everyone else is her fantasy.

    I plan to add an update tomorrow -- Zack Snyder was interviewed, and has an interesting admission that sheds new light on your last point. Hint: it has to do with geek boys.

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  5. Good review, got linked to it and you basically see things the same way as me.

    Even if most people don't enjoy the film, I feel many 'fanboys' of the target demographic understood the message, and I think that's better than being targeted to women and preaching to the choir.

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  6. Yes. Even if they only understand it on a subconscious level, and maybe start to view the world differently in the future, that's a good thing. :)

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  7. Here's the thing, Luna. Mostly, I'm on board with what you're saying here, and I get that Snyder was trying to make a film that would ultimately be empowering to women. But...

    Babydoll is wrongly committed to an insane asylum, from within which she has battle fantasies where she's this kick-ass heroine, and this is like a mental/emotional escapism sort of thing from the horrors of the abusive asylum. But Babydoll's *first* line of mental/emotional escape from the asylum is into a fantasy world where the asylum is a front for a brothel, where all the girls are held prisoner and forced to dance and "entertain" men in order to stay alive. From within *that* layer, Babydoll escapes into the battle fantasies.

    To me, this is tearing at the corners of misogyny because Babydoll *creates* this brothel fantasy of her own free will, she *chooses* it as a better reality than that of the asylum. She fabricates the entire scenario of being forced into sexual slavery, and dives right into it---apparently *welcomes* it. And isn't that the textbook sexist fantasy: that all girls and women who are forced into a life of sexual slavery actually *want* it on some subconscious level?

    I've turned it over and over in my mind, and I just can't find any good justification for the brothel layer to exist in this story. Babydoll and the other girls could've gone directly from the asylum reality into the battle fantasies, and that could've been a much stronger and more female-empowering story. And they *still* could've been scantily dressed and glammed up like crazy in those sequences.

    My issue isn't with the tiny clothes or heavy makeup, it's with Babydoll *choosing* to create this sexual slavery layer and wedge it between herself and the heroic battle layer. Why would a bereaved, abused girl like Babydoll do this? Weren't the perils of the asylum dangerous and ugly enough to warrant escaping directly into the battle fantasy world?

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  8. Thank you for your comments. I see your point. Here's why I found it plausible.

    The cold hard reality for many women in the 1880-1970's USA, and unfortunately still many today throughout the world, is that a brothel seems far better than their current situation, and sadly, in some cases actually /is/ better.

    For women in an asylum, who were already being raped regularly, a brothel is more classy and "legitimate" than rape, especially from the perspective of an unlucky woman's mind from the time. Everyone knows what's going on in a brothel - No one knows about the rapes in the asylum, and they call you crazy (invalidating and doubly painful) when you try to talk about it. Further, men in an upscale brothel probably couldn't get away with beating up the girls - unlike an asylum. The brothel has the finery of good food, pretty (albeit revealing) clothing, and a lack of the stigma of "being crazy". It also lacks the torture of electroshock therapy, the lobotomy, and other insanities in the field of psychiatry during that era.

    It represents a realistic escape-route for a woman in that situation. Any other fantasy is unrealistic (being married to a nice guy or having a career, the things you and I consider common-place). This is where Baby Doll goes when life is only "kinda" miserable, i.e. day-to-day life in the asylum. She can easily imagine the kitchens are the same (they are nearly identical), the dorms, the offices -- it's an over-lay for her world.

    It also gives her an easy euphemism for the rapes she experiences - "dancing". (In what other fantasy could she concoct a "believable" analogy for being raped?) But that's when things really get traumatic. The rape and/or use of her body to gather escape items send her to a new level of trauma. Now it no longer matters if her fantasy mirrors reality. Now she is no longer an "actor" (scrubbing floors, washing dishes, talking to fellow inmates), but is being "acted on", laying back to take it, 100% powerless. She no longer needs to see any level of reality, even through a filter. This allows the dissociation of an impossible fantasy world. She has completely checked out.

    I had an incredibly active fantasy life as a teen, and while my life wasn't nearly so hard as Baby Doll's, I was using it as an escape from my own pain at the time. So I understand her overlay fantasy, draping like a template over the real world.

    One more comment on this. Women are as deluded by sexism as men. I was a staunch defender of the way men treated women in the religion I was raised in. Women are just as capable of drinking that Kool-Aid, especially sheltered young women like Baby Doll. She would not have thought, "Hey, maybe I do have some power here, and maybe I don't deserve any of this, so maybe going to a brothel-level of fantasy is a bad idea, after all it /is/ my fantasy, so I'm going to imagine I'm a scientist or lawyer." No... Women are still affected by their cultural norms, even if it is not in their best interest. To put in another way, a lot of victims are deluded into blaming /themselves/. This film does a good job of showing that, but since it isn't preachy, lots of people missed it and instead blame the director for blaming the victim. (hehe) If he wanted to blame the victim, he had lots of opportunities to do so from sources external to Baby Doll's mind, and he didn't. (He could have clearly pinned her sister's murder on her but he leaves it an unknown. He could have shown us part of her dance, so we could think about how she's "asking for it", but he doesn't. If he wanted to show she subconsciously wanted the sex, he could have made Baby Doll more happy about being in the brothel, but she is clearly uncomfortable and unexcited about "performing". Etc.)

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  9. Still not sure I'm buying it, because Babydoll most definitely DID take great pride in her "dancing" abilities, she DID enjoy the brothel level to some extent (if for no other reason than that's the level where she took on a leadership and protector role) and I still find it a little too convenient that her chosen escape fantasy---the brothel scenario---meshes so perfectly with the textbook sexist fantasy about women forced into sexual slavery.

    It would make a lot more sense to me if they'd shown her on the verge of being sexually assaulted in the asylum and then had her flash into the brothel reality. It would've been clear that she'd overlaid a similar reality that matched the circumstances, but that in the fantasy world she was exerting some control.

    If Snyder's intent matches what you're positing here, and I can imagine that it might, then I fault the writing and editing for failing to elucidate that vision and those ideas.

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  10. The reason for the subtlety: We are entirely in Baby Doll's mind. She begins blocking it as soon as anything starts. It's the opposite of the movie Precious, where the camera was entirely outside the situation so we could experience every horror in its raw visual form. The camera is entirely on the inside of Baby Doll, where her goal is to avoid every horror.

    I've heard there were a lot of cuts to make the movie more commercial. Some of this controversy may be answered in the Director's Cut. For example, there's an actual sex scene at the end with the High Roller (played by the lobotomist - the only male with a sense of morality or guilt). It is consensual and loving, and supposedly a stark emotional contrast to the rest of the movie. (Oddly it was cut to improve the MPAA rating - What does /that/ say about our society? The one loving, consensual, non-violent act (even if in fantasy) would have made it rated R.)

    How will the inclusion of that and other scenes and part-scenes affect the interpretation of the movie?

    It's just like "Brazil" in that sense. One small brush-stroke could cast the story in an entirely different light.

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  11. Leaving the High Roller scene in would've made many more pieces click into place. When she checked into the asylum I recall someone saying Babydoll's age was 22, so I don't know why that scene couldn't have been left in. Plenty of PG13 films have sex scenes, the director just has to be very careful with camera placement and sheet draping.

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  12. According to Snyder, the cuts suggested by the MPAA would have made the scene (the way it was filmed) seem less consensual, so they cut the whole thing.

    Some reviewers thought it should be NC-17 in the current cut, so... :)

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  13. I linked to your article: https://www.facebook.com/frankstevengimenez/posts/215013001846554

    I was wondering about the Wise Man—who he is outside of the fantasies. But he must be a part of the main character's ("Baby Doll") mind. Throughout the movie, she has been 100% determined to:
    1. Stop her stepfather from abusing her.
    2. Stop her stepfather from abusing her sister.
    3. Escape the asylum.
    No hesitation, no doubt, no wondering whether she could do it, or should, or what happens afterward. Just a pure focus on the objective. So, she's been guiding herself.

    And I don't know if you use TVTropes, but I've been editing their page for this movie: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SuckerPunch

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  14. We guessed the Wise Man may be Baby Doll's memory of her real father.

    Thanks for directing me to tvtropes.org. Awesome site. :D

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  15. Oh, yeah! I'm sorry to hook you up to a massive time sink that you don't have any room in your life to spare for (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TVTropesWillRuinYourLife), but TVTropes is a valuable resource that any writer should become intimately familiar with (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/SugarWiki/TVTropesWillEnhanceYourLife).

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  16. From a Feminist perspective, TVTropes codifies the sexism that's routinely portrayed in media as tropes, which provides a way to tag offending media as such: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DoubleStandard
    (I ♥ TVTropes, btw. :) [/spam]

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  17. Thanks for this. Sadly, I had to type "Sucker punch feminist review" to find anything that didn't say it was nonsensical and silly or that it was entertaining because there were hot girls fighting dragons.

    I think I would compare it more with something like Pan's Labyrinth than a Lynch film, in that it gives us a fantasy created to protect from real life horrors (and the fantasy gives us something fun to watch and makes it all more palatable). Maybe not as "complex" as a Mulhulland Drive, but still, a lot of psychological symbols to sift through (slitting the little dragon's vulnerable, phallic throat stands out) something to do with emasculation and the rage from the big dragon that ensues...

    Anyway, yes, the events that happen in the movie I thought were really thoughtful and carefully done ways of exposing some of the things and thinking that still go on in our enlightened and modern society.

    In defense of the Wise Man, I thought it was a good move in that it reinforces that it isn't feminist revenge flick, but also doesn't cast him as any kind of male hero counterpart, or powerful father figure, and he doesn't actually DO very much (I guess I didn't really get the purpose of his un asked for life advice, but whatever).

    Thanks again, this is a great review. The film really at least deserved a more thoughtful review than "no plot, hot chicks and stuff blowing up"

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  18. Late comment is late, but thank you! Thank you for writing all this out. I did not get to see Sucker Punch until a while after it came out so I gorged myself on reviews and such. I did not find one positive review written from a feminist perspective. I became disappointed but couldn't just not see the movie. I watched the movie...and was stunned. I couldn't see anything that the blogs had ranted on. I thought I was going crazy for falling in love with the movie until my friend got to see it and loved it too. We watched it together last week and discussed a lot of what you brought to attention here. So thank you for saying it. Beautiful job.

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  19. Reading through comments, and I wanted to reply to the points April L. Hamilton brought up.

    That was a problem [Baby Doll creating the brothel world] that the blogs I read had and that I was also questioning. When I was discussing with my friend it came up that she was under the impression that the brothel was just another way to express how she felt. The clothes, the dancing - Baby Doll was being abused and used and the brothel world was a symbol of all that. Her true escape was the world she did the fighting in.

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  20. I can't help but to view this movie to not only show the current state of society, but a critical look at feminism.

    So the female's powerless. Put by man into the asylum to be abused. Feeling powerless, the female, in this film -- Baby Doll, has manifested herself in the only way she knows to get power: sexual liberation. Sure, she's in control in the brothel, but isn't that brothel just a fantasy in the reality of the asylum?

    She goes off to do sexual favors (Think about it, the men are placed in seating positions while she dances, she's giving BJs) in order to seize power from the male (fire (The invention of man?), knife, etc.).

    Now let me sidetrack -- are all man active players in the abuse of women? Not at all. The men who stand by and just watch it all happen far outnumber the abusers. Some even try to protest, but are silenced by the most visible man's shouts. (These guys are the "stars" in the movie, the rest are just extras. Think about that.)

    So what's the deal? The popular feminist uses sex to obtain power on par with the key players of the abuses. Ultimiately it's just a fantasy -- they're still in the same dirty, dark, dreary, drippy walls of the asylum.

    The female doctor, a person of acclaimed academia, even played along with it, encouraged it, until the very end when she played into the abuser taking the power away from the feminist (The "star player" of the show forged her position).

    But pay attention, it seems many of you passed up that Baby Doll had her virginity saved for the high roller(at least in her fantasy brothel world, I'd have to pay attention to see if it matches up in the real), and considering the scene that was cut, saving it for the guy, another doctor, or representative of acadademia, who ultimately made her powerless through lobotomy. She gave him the "Take it from me" look just as he revoked all of her power. It wasn't until she was powerless that the two figures of academia realized they royally screwed feminism up by focusing on sexual liberation.

    It was seemingly only in her fantasy world of trying to escape to freedom, the same one where she used the tools of humans(not only the gun and sword, but the likes of machinery and even fundamental tech. like fire) to seize the weapons that men used outside the grasp of the female, where in the last scene the female is welcomed aboard the bus of man, who not only fended her from the oppressors, and the face who saw her as a potent power, but was happy to have her onboard.

    TL;DR: Femenism ran itself into a wall by focusing on sexual liberation rather than demanding full equality.

    I apologize if this is incomprehensible and ill organized. Late night ramblings, really. ^_^

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  21. To add on, from Wiki: "Steve Persall found that the most offensive fact about the film was that it "suggests that all this objectification of women makes them stronger. It's supposed to be reassuring that men who beat, berate, molest and kill these women will get what's coming to them."

    That's the Sucker Punch -- women are getting what they're asking for, but it's sneaking up behind them and proving them to be ultimately powerless in their preparation for their freedom.

    " James MacDowell questions the alleged misogyny of the film, arguing that it does not in fact aim to offer female empowerment, but is instead "a deeply pessimistic analysis of female oppression", because it makes clear that, "just as men organize the dances, so do they control the terms of the fight scenes; in neither do the women have true agency, only an illusion of it.""

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  22. Interesting look at it. I might agree that it's pessimistic, but I'd say anything that holds a mirror up to the darker sides of society is going to inherently be pessimistic. Nevertheless, that mirror needs to be held up. For many women who liked this film (and I don't know your gender), this mirror was somewhat cathartic. I could say, "Look! This is kind of how it feels! Those defense mechanisms, I can relate to them!" We also have a metaphorical message we can point to, to show anyone who cares, that this is what life is like for women, even to this day.

    If that's pessimistic, so be it.

    In terms of sexual liberation, I am all for it. It makes women more powerful to find their own sexuality and act freely (and responsibly) on it. Women want liberation in all areas of life -- in our careers, our relationships, our families, our property, our bodies, and yes, even our sexuality. Especially our sexuality. Because it's one area that men have liberty in, and we have less. And there is a lot of power in sex.. it isn't just some little unimportant thing that should be ignored or suppressed. With it comes the power to create children (with the burden on the woman). Sex for a woman means someone goes inside her -- something which can be very vulnerable and potentially emotional, and with that power (or often lack thereof) comes the metaphorical power a woman has (or doesn't have) in the other areas of her life.

    It is true (pessimistically) that women have used sex as a tool to power for many centuries. This may seem empowering, but in fact is in a way degrading. If sex is the *only* route to power for a woman, it is degrading. If it is just one of many reasonably equal choices to power? Then it is not degrading, and in fact is much more equal to what men have. i.e. if a girl can pass high school just as easily by studying hard and passing tests, as she can by flirting with her teachers, then we will have equality AND sexual liberation. There is no outside force motivating her to flirt with her teachers, other than her own desire to.

    Or if a wife can be heard by her husband, and doesn't need to withhold sex from him to get a reasonable outcome in their relationship, but CAN withhold sex because she simply doesn't feel like having sex that night, without any consequences, then we'll have a sexually liberated AND equal world.

    As it stands, the lines of consentuality are very blurry, and women DO use sex as a tool because we sometimes have no other choice. I'd rather see us have all the same tools men have at their disposal, and see those tools work just as well for us, and have sex be a freely acted, or not acted, act.

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  23. OK. Just wanted to point out a couple of critical things that some people seem to be missing. Great article, though, BTW.

    Let's start with the name Babydoll. A baby doll is a toy that children project their imaginations on to. Looking at it from that end:

    The way the movie starts out, we see Babydoll on a stage. The curtain draws back. Just as kids project their imaginations on to baby dolls, viewers project their imaginations on to actors. In this case, we project our imaginations onto Emily Browning's character the second the curtains go up.

    Following that train of thought, Amber, Blondie, Rocket, Sweet Pea...none of those girls are real. They are real in the sense that they exist in the asylum (Babydoll's reality) but she is only using them as templates for her two fantasy worlds, the brothel and the war zone.

    She is projecting her fear (Amber), her innocence (Rocket), her strength (Sweet Pea), and her loyalty (Amber) onto the templates of these girls that she sees in the asylum. She, Baby Doll, is the part of herself we simply see everything through. I think the Rocket-Sweet Pea narrative illustrates the reality of Baby Doll and her lost sister. When Rocket said "we're already dead," that was a literal cue to the viewer: They are already dead.

    No one escaped in the asylum reality, nor in the concrete sense. I think Baby Doll did stab an orderly and set the hospital on fire, but it was just her. The interactions with these other girls didn't exist.

    That patient she helped to escape that Madam Gorski mentioned was the viewer.

    As for the people who have issues with the second level being a brothel: If the interactions with the other girls never happened in reality, then Baby Doll needed to create a fantasy that was bad enough that she/others within that realm wanted to escape, so of course it had to be a terrible place. Even if you disregard that, control of the body in the brothel realm mirrors control of the mind in the asylum realm. At least in the brothel, Baby Doll's mind is free. She needed a fantasy where her mind was free, but a fantasy with a similar enough mirror to reality that she would want to escape it, and again, in the brothel realm, her body is controlled but her mind is free. Only when her mind if free is she able to escape into the second fantasy, which is the war zone.

    The girl was so traumatized she could not just jump in to a fantasy where she had power and control. She needed to first reflect it and desire to escape that fantasy, then she could imagine her way out.

    The entire film is a meta-analysis for escapism. I thought that was obvious from the out-set, especially with the surrealism surrounding Sweet Pea's escape: the return of the wise man and the boy Amber (I think it was Amber) saw in the trenches, the road Sweet Pea was travelling down was called Paradise.

    In the end, Baby Doll still won. She imagined her way out. That's why the line with the lobotimist still works "It's like she wanted me to do it" even though it reads with much more gravity with the deleted scene included. She is able to take control because she knows how to escape.

    Also, note the name on the charts as she is being signed in: M. Rease. Memories erased.

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  24. Those are great insights. I especially liked your insight about dolls being a projection of imagination... Dolls are also objectified (literally objects shaped like people), so that resonates even further with the oppression of women theme AND Snyder's admission that the audience itself was "men in the dark".

    A lot of people have pointed out that four of the girls were probably also imagination (either as multiple personalities or Jungian animas) but there is some debate over whether Baby Doll is the real person, or Sweat Pea. Your addition of the doll projection idea doesn't really help answer that -- If a baby doll is who the fantasy is projected onto, then doesn't that make Sweat Pea the real one? Baby Doll becomes a prism through which Sweat Pea's projection is split into multiple parts. It seems as if there is something we could learn from Sweat Pea's name, but it's not coming to me right now.

    Great catch on M. Rease's name. I wonder if there are other interesting clues to be found? What's great about this film is it is as psychologically symbolic as a Lynch film, without the squick, and with a plot that makes sense. :)

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  25. Good point about Baby Doll's name. I guess I meant that since she is the one doing the projecting, it is symbolic of her name. If that makes sense. But what you pointed out is cause for further thought.

    Sorry for the snark earlier in my post, BTW. Was kinda late, but still. Also, I linked this article to my FB and a lot of people told me that they rented the movie because of it (me included) so kudos to you!

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  26. Yep, I'm not convinced either way on who is real and who isn't, since I've heard interesting arguments for both.

    Thanks for sharing the article, and I'm so glad to hear it's gotten people to watch the movie. That was one of my goals -- that and to help people who hate it understand it. I was motivated by all the bad reviews from people who seemed to be reviewing things that weren't even in the movie... Sucker Punch seemed more like a mirror to themselves or society and THAT'S what they didn't like. I wanted them and everyone else to "get it".

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  27. Wow, this is the most insightful review of Sucker Punch I have ever read!
    I've been looking all over online for a review that shares the same feelings I have for this film and finding yours was pitch perfect! You actually described things in this review that I could never articulate for myself. So if I'm ever in a debate with someone over this film, I hope you don't that I'll be stealin-*coughs borrowing* your points.

    Really just a great review!

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  28. Yes, please do share the ideas with whoever you wish. Ideas can't be owned, only implementations of ideas, and I share these here so others can spread them. :D Thanks so much!

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  29. im a young guy and i liked this film alot, not only was it a psychological thriller. But the producer incorporated hot girls and fighting, not to mention an amazing soundtrack. This being said, I got my brother and dad to watch it and they really enjoyed it til the end. Now they say it's a terrible movie. I guess the lobitimy really turned them off. I think this was the point though. The whole idea of materializing women. And then at the end you see her unchanged xept she is brainless, truely a material object. I really love a movie that can make me feel something. Wish there were more movies like this.


    I think alot of guys feel guilty after watching this movie. It kind of slams the truth of our crazier fantasies in our faces. The producer basically plays a trick on us, here look at these hot girls and action scenes, then oh look you're just as bad as the guys in this movie.

    I'm not ashamed of my human nature as a male. We have the ability to be bad, but so do women. The movie played on both parts, women have power over us too.

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  30. That was all very perceptive, and based on most of the reviews I've seen, not many people saw into the film so deeply. Thank you for your comments. :)

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  31. I'm late for the watching of this film, so apologies if the river of thought has already run dry on this account. However, I feel I must comment as this film immediately struck me on a very deep emotional level, which at first I was rather baffled by. I am so thankful that I found this site. The article and comments have been fantastic reading and have justified some of the intensity of my emotional response to some degree.

    I am a hard working young woman that works in an extremely male dominated job. After coming home from a hard day at work, out of pure curiosity, I put this film on. After viewing, I find myself sitting here dumbfounded and wondering at the levels upon levels of meaning that I discovered in the film. More interestingly were the actual tears I shed over some of the issues that I saw in the film. I now know it was not for the film I cried, but for the issues that came up from the powerful imagery within the film.

    I have read a good deal of the comments on this site, I believe the main article puts it best though. What I do not think anyone so far has commented on is the beauty in the imagery of the girls relationships - their camaraderie. For me, this was the most positive message that came through. I think now, I may have been weeping for what I do not have at the moment in my job.

    I am amazed that a film like this, by this particular director, has provoked such a reaction from me, and I will seek to learn more about some of the issues and the wonderful ideas I have discovered on this site. The adventure continues...

    Many thanks.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments. :) Watching it was emotional for me as well. It "reverberated", and held so many thematic truths.

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  32. I instantly fell in love with this movie, and was so upset by the other reviews that I've read. I love love love this analysis of the movie and my girlfriend did as well. I'm so sorry that it took me so long to finally watch this movie. It is very thought provoking and is a must see for all people not just women. We haven't been able to stop thinking about this movie since we watched it last night and are getting ready to watch it again. I was prompted to look up analysis of this movie because I wanted to see who else believed the same theories that I did about the movie. Yours gave me the confirmation that I needed. I don't know the history of the genres that it mimicked, but I know what my analytic mind pieced together. I sooo agree that the story was in fact Sweet Pea's story and that Baby Doll was a product of Multiple Personality Disorder. I also believe that in the end she was at peace with the lobotomy that she had to receive and in that moment she escaped on the bus and found her freedom even if only in her mind. Small minds don't like this movie. Thanks for an AMAZING REVIEW.

    Lateefah and Ash

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    1. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the review and the movie. :D

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  33. I wanted to thank you for this wonderful review. I only got to see SP for the first time a few months ago and instantly loved it. As someone who is painfully aware of the abuse women and their families endure (I'm a survior) this movie was amazing. I do find many people don't understand it or criticize it without fully understanding what Snyder was doing. In any case I've been using clips from the movie in classes I teach at my church and have been introducing it to my friends - some of whom -might- qualify as geeky-fan-boys :-)

    Thank you, and keep fighting the good fight.

    - Michael

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  34. Amazing!! Thanks so much for an awesome post :) Loved the movie, loved this article!

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  35. Been over a year since Ive read this review. And Im still posting this link to people now. :))
    Many thanks Luna. <3

    Amazing film.
    People think they are smart, cos they understand the 'layers' in the movie.
    But the real layers are not in the realities, but the story subtext.
    Make sure to watch the uncut version after. While it dont change the story, I like the added bits at the end, that reinforce both endings of the film, that people love to argue over. lol

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  36. Just saw the film, amazing interpretation, fascinating movie.

    Keep up the good work! :)

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  37. Did you ever see the director's cut? What did you think of it?

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    1. I did. I didn't think it added much, except the addition of the high roller love scene. That gave it an emotional component showing the stark contrast between consensual and non-consensual sex.

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    2. I thought it added a lot. But I did watch that version first, so I'm totally biased. The theatrical version actually made me angry as I saw how the film's message could be lost on viewers--the movie was so defanged.

      The musical number made it VERY CLEAR to me that this was satire. That scene set the tone for me. It was just so exaggerated.

      The little dialogue tweaks that just made it more obvious to me what the film was about. Blue refers to himself as their "father" and "lover" instead of their "friend" and "protector" making it clear it was about the struggle against patriarchy. Just little things like that which were in the script and shot, then cut out to get a PG-13, added so much to this world I thought.

      An added scene I really like was Madam Gorsky writing the girls' order/ranking on the chalkboard. Blondie is so happy to be #2 and Sweet Pea and Rocket take so much pride in the former being #1. It's like Blue is distracting them with this meaningless hierarchy in order to keep them placated--like, yes, you're a slave BUT, you're the #1 slave. I thought it was incredibly poignant for such a short throwaway scene.

      Also, that last scene just made the film flow better as well. It sells the mirror trick shot. There's merit in artistic beauty.

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  38. I was linked here by theRPF, and since you are my aunt I thought I would read and comment.

    I think many people try to draw a 1:1 relationship between all the symbols at all the levels, when the real goal is probably to create a similar emotional response through the different levels of Baby Doll's psyche.

    For instance, we recognize that the brothel is a dissociative reality to the asylum Babydoll is in, and that within that false reality she can use sex as empowerment instead of facing the objectifying, de-humanizing reality of rape in the asylum.

    However, I think it is hard for many people (especially men) to accept that sex can be used as an empowering tool for women. So the third level of Babydoll's mind, the characters are empowered with symbols through stereotypically male tools, to relate this on an emotional level rather than logical one.

    In the case of Babydoll, this isn't true empowerment. She's being raped, but the delusion is the only assertion of control she has. Snyder is simultaneously showing men, on an emotional level they already understand, how empowerment through sex can feel, while still making you extremely uncomfortable about the rape she is facing in reality.

    Also, the nerd-fantasy sequences not only show empowerment through a language geeks will already understand, but it makes them uncomfortable because it forces geeks and nerds to see how their fan-service culture objectifies women. The sequence not only shows sex as empowerment for women, but shows how sexual portrayals of women in comic books, videogames, and anime can be objectifying, like the rape Babydoll is experiencing.

    As for the dance sequence, and why we never see it, I think it has less to do with any major symbolism and more to do with the fact that Emily Browning is not a dancer.

    Again, this is why people shouldn't always try to post-rationalize 1:1 symbolism to a choice that was probably made for practical reasons. It doesn't mean that it doesn't work out well after, but let's not read into it too much as a gesamtkunstwerk piece of genius.

    Take for instance Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (stay with me here). In the movie they are told that in the future their music will be so powerful that it will unite all of humanity. It's a powerful idea, but we never get to hear the music. The reason we don't hear it is because the idea of world uniting music is more powerful as an interpretable idea for our imaginations, rather than a real thing to criticize.

    In the same way, Babydoll's dancing, no matter how good of a dancer Emily Browning is, would never be as powerful as the idea of her dancing. So this idea of the power of her dancing is then delivered through the highly fantastic sequences with dragons and ninjas and nazi-zombies.

    Finally, I love Snyder's comment, "I have no problem with this dichotomy as to why she is in the outfit." I can't say much for feminism in general, because I probably get it wrong most of the time, but one thing that people like to see is a virtuosic performance.

    We love great music being played well. We enjoy drawings, paintings and photographs that are well composed and are made with great technical skill. We take pleasure in a person who can compose words into eloquent sentences.

    In a similar way, we can admire the beauty of the human form and face. This is where I probably get it wrong, but if we want women to be free to express themselves, then shouldn't we be allowed to admire that expression if we want? I think in this way the movie itself is a symbol. It has many female protagonists portrayed in a way that is not objectifying, but still has all of the tropes of objectified women. It in a way says, "the women in this film are empowered, even though the characters they represent are not."

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    1. Excellent comments.

      The best kind of symbolism is that which is felt, not thought about. When I write symbols into fiction, my goal is for them to reverberate in my audience, not for them to analyze it. If everyone sees the symbolism for what it is, I've done something wrong -- the same way seeing a boom mic or pieces of the set is a movie done wrong.

      A few people in every audience (like me) will want to analyse, because we're huge nerds and like to think about it too much. Writing about it is helpful for those those who felt something, who want to understand and google it later. Sucker Punch worked, and is googled a lot, because some people felt angry. Some people hated it. And some people it loved it. And they didn't know why, and now they want to know. So Snyder did his job there.

      I do like your point that the action sequences were to help the men feel empowered so they'd understand how the women might feel empowered (relatively) by the dancing. Technically, sex as a form of empowerment for women is sort of a crappy runner up prize, like getting a year's supply of Spam for losing a game show, but in that context it IS one of the only forms of empowerment many women will ever experience. And yeah, that might explain why men tend to hate this movie while women love it. The men aren't so comfortable equating empowerment with being on the receiving end of objectified sex, whereas women... well, that's just part of being a woman. Life sucks. What else is new.

      In terms of the subtleties of feminism, first off you get it right by honestly trying to understand. :) Secondly (and I only speak for myself, not every feminist), it's not the admiration of female beauty that is the problem - it is admiration to the exclusion of all else. If more women in comic books were portrayed in a wider array of personalities, costumes, and situations, and if they took actions more closely resembling the actions real women might take if they had Super Powers... Then yeah, dress SOME of them up all sexy. Because SOME women are shameless, sexy, sexually empowered. But not *all* are. We want media to represent more of the spectrum, and represent it more realistically, without glossing over the cost. That's what Snyder does. The cost of objectification is plainly, painfully, displayed.

      So as you say, very insightfully, the audience saw what wasn't actually there. It was something of an optical illusion. Not because of the costumes of the women, which were relatively modest, nor because of the camera angels which actually did not objectify as most genre files do, but because the tropes have already been established, so on queue, the audience saw what it expected.

      Now the question is... (Here comes a new meta layer!) when that same audience looks at a female fan at a con, do they see who she really is? Or do they see what they thought they saw in Sucker Punch? The answer is, they see what they expect. And that's why such prevalent objectification of women is harmful to women.

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  39. Wow. I'm glad this conversation is still going. Just saw the movie, loved it. Can't stop thinking about it.

    I loved the review. I loved the comments. I definitely agree with a lot of the feminist/sexist/empowerment themes you saw in the movie. People see different things in this movie, which I love. This is my take, let me know what you think....

    I think, in the 2 delusional worlds, that Sweet Pea is really Baby Doll. Baby Doll, in the delusional worlds, is really just her drive. It's her all-out, fight tooth and nail, spirit. The other characters are a reflection of what's happened to Baby Doll. And the outcome is her fantasy. It's said that when you dream, you work out all of your real-life issues. I think that's what's happening. The brothel world is 2 things: A distorted mirror of what's happening currently (abuses, rapes, etc.), AND A distorted mirror of what's happened to her in the past.
    1. Currently: The brothel is seemingly inescapable, abusive, and "owns" the girls like the asylum. I see the brothel as a slightly more empowering version of the asylum.
    2. The past: Sweat Pea has a sister who is killed while she was trying to get them both out of an abusive (maybe deadly) situation, just like baby doll. Baby Doll was brought in by a father, that wasn't her real father. She was betrayed (sold out), by her stepfather and one of the girls. She had a strong female taken from her, her mother and one of the girls. I see this as Baby Doll working through her past issues.

    The battle scenes... Well, Gorski told her (or the brothel version of her did, at least), this is where she needed to fight for her survival. She was being raped, or using sex as a weapon, so she needed a more powerful escape. The battle scenes seem to show a more balanced sexual power structure. The Wise Man doesn't force them into anything. He's more of a guide, than a boss. He tells Sweat Pea, "Glad you changed your mind." He didn't force her into anything. Gwen mentioned seeing the killing of the baby dragon as an abortion of sorts. Well, they are killing a baby to obtain something that might help them get their freedom. It's a fantasy of how life should be. But, it's portrayed in a fantastical fashion because this is such an epic battle for her survival. There's so much turmoil with rape, and having to use sex to obtain what you want. That's why it's so over the top. But, it still portrays her fantasy of how the power structure should be. Equal power, the freedom to start a family when the woman wants, etc.

    She had to give up a part of herself to be free. "It's me." She had to give up her real self. It was also the part that fought like hell, did anything to get what she wanted (sex as a tool/weapon).

    I think that Sweat Pea getting on the bus was Baby Doll finally escaping. She went to a world that was more realistically based, but where the power structure was more balanced. It was in her mind, but she had freedom. She had to give up her real self, and the part of herself that was torturing her. She no longer had that all-out fight inside of her, the one that made her use everything including sex (which was severely hurting her) to get results. Notice what Sweat Pea is wearing. It's a stark contrast to the skimpy outfits. It's sweet, it's innocent.

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  40. Ok i know this is really late, but i love this movie, regardless of how uncomfortable i am with the betrayal scene where blue kills Amber and Blondie, and i am surprised no one caught the part where Sweet Pea comments on the lobotomy fantasy she's doing and says:

    “This is a joke, right? I get the sexy schoolgirl and nurse thing, but what’s this? A lobotomized vegetable? How about something more commercial?”

    I just right now put on the bluray and hit jump scene and ended up right there, and since ive already watched the movie, this really stood up as the director telling us why we would feel uncomfortable with it: it is not commercial, it is not sanitized.

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  41. OMG the lobotomy scene! I didn't realize that before now, with what sweet pea says, I truly love this film more and more, the more I read about what other people have noticed, it really is complex. Someone mentioned earlier "why did she fantasize about being in a brothel? if she was raped why would she want that?" or something similar. Well as someone who does dissociate, I can tell you the idea of sex in reality is impossible, but having control in your imagination is possible, because you do have control. It is depressing but for me I definitely understood this movie, and it really is a shame that it got such horrible reviews from people who REALLY don't understand ("why are there DRAGONS!? WTF") I love how all of you analyze this film, and do pull away something from it

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  42. I have seen this movie a few times and read a few reviews. I like a lot of what was said here, but there is one scene that I find myself stumbling over that no one else has addressed.

    Baby is led into the theater. Behind her, Blue and "the father" are bargaining over the untouched purity of her mind (her virginity to be taken away by that awful ice picky lobotomy tool.) Sweet Pea is on stage receiving therapy and in the chasm between them are all the other girls of the asylum. The characters we come to know as Amber, Blondie, and Rocket are seated together looking expectantly (as I see it) at the newcomer, but it is Sweet Pea and Baby who are really sizing each other up.

    Any thoughts? If anyone is still reviewing this thread.

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    1. Hmm, that part didn't really stand out to me. Simplistically, it most likely just foreshadowed the final choice between Baby and Sweet Pea's liberation, and Baby's choice to sacrifice herself. It said, "These are the two to pay attention to."

      There may be some deeper clue there, if any of the theories that "none of the other girls were real" are true. It's been floated in the above comments that Sweet Pea is an alter-ego of Baby's. If so, that could be the moment Baby splits into, or identifies with, the other identities... i.e. she is impressing Sweet Pea into her mind.

      I am sure it is intentionally vague, meant to evoke a general impression rather than anything specific.

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  43. Years later and can not stop thinking about this movie. I have struggled with deciding between Sweet Pea and Baby Doll as the main protagonist. I think the point made by a previous commenter solidified it for me. Why would Baby Doll choose a brothel fantasy to escape from the asylum? She wouldn't. What I have decided is that reality is the asylum, and the brothel is the fantasy that Sweet Pea has chosen. The fight scenes are the fantasy Baby doll has chosen. So, in reality Baby Doll is organizing an escape from the asylum...but she views it as a battle with orcs, zombies, etc, and Sweet Pea views it as escaping from the Brothel. Originally there were musical numbers that were cut...which fall in nicely with Sweet Pea's fantasy of being a star. Why do we spend so much time in the Brothel? It ties in with Sweet Pea's comment at the very beginning that rav3style mentions above.
    “This is a joke, right? I get the sexy schoolgirl and nurse thing, but what’s this? A lobotomized vegetable? How about something more commercial?”

    We will not spend a lot of time in the reality of the asylum because it is uncomfortable.

    We can imagine watching the plot through three different lenses (reality, baby doll, and sweet pea).

    In addition, I wish we could have had one female "villain". Perhaps Dr. Gorski/ Vera could have been in on the take. That would have been able to contrast the girls using their sexuality as a defense or necessity. Vera could have used it to manipulate Blue. It would have shown both sides of the coin.

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  44. Awesome review. is anyone still on here because i have some questions?

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  45. Just want to say this review is great. I read another one by a woman who was ambivalent about the movie on feminist themes. I think this type of film is ripe for more psychological interpretations like Freud or Jung. I also think the music is very important like "Army of Me" and "White Rabbit" since the rabbit is a symbol in the film. On "reality," (I don't think we ever see reality,) the rabbit was something Baby Doll's sister had and it is on the machine Amber uses. Sweet Dreams, Asleep, and Where is My Mind? are other ones. All the phallic symbols are interesting, because while the girls on one reality use them to fight fantasy monsters, in others they use their sexuality, something within themselves, to combat the simple men. I only think the girls are being raped when they die on the second level. I don't think Baby Doll is getting raped whenever she dances or even giving sexual acts to get what she wants, because of a few more literal clues. We see that when Sweet Pea is wearing the Baby Doll get up, she is on the stage and Madam Gorski is watching. I believe this is a parallel to her receiving therapy by the psychiatrist on the 1st level. We also see a pendulum bobbing back and forth in a montage of what happened during the week and I think that is a parallel to the cane Madam Gorski makes when she bangs it on the ground to get Baby Doll to dance for the first time.

    So I ultimately believe that whenever she dances, she is getting therapy. Getting therapy is her learning about herself and facing her demons straight on. So the dances translate to her finding her mind and mentally empowering herself. Not physically using her sexuality to overtake men, because she is already doing that on the 2nd level.

    I think it could go both ways, because Blue had to be present with her so someone could take the map. That means that Baby Doll had sexually performed on him as a diversion, but I don't think he ever had her because of the last scene. He never had her mind or body before and was eager to finally have it after the lobotomy but her mind was gone forever. In my interpretation he always wanted her mind from the therapy sessions after listening in on them, but never had the chance to finally have it.

    I think both theories are interesting and none are wrong.

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  46. I'm a husband, a father (with three sweet little girls) aaaand a typical male.. Like the other fellow mentioned.. I too loved the hot babes, the sexy outfits and the cool action scenes...UNTILL I began to understand the story and what was being done to those women. And by the end of the movie.. my heart was hurting. Felt like I was helping to rape her..just by watching. Really odd to find myself both aroused and miserably sad. I wonder.. I wonder if that's how a rapist feels.. aroused and miserable.
    Thinking about it makes me want to throw the whole concept to the ground and run away... go hammer on some nails or go 4 wheeling in my Jeep. Or go protect my wife and daughters from a bear or something.. anything.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Anonymous. Your reaction may explain why so many male reviewers had such a strong negative reaction. Thanks for being self-aware and thoughtful about it. As a woman, I'm used to certain expectations and ways of thinking about things. Many men are not, and it seems like this movie holds that mirror up in a way where men can see what's going on, and it's uncomfortable.

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  47. The movie has another poignant touch that resonates when simply put into words: Baby Doll's fantasies in the "1960s" are exactly what a geeky teenage boy wants to see in our present day. In other words, within and outside the story, her dreams are defined, determined, and limited by the "lowbrow" desires of men, also inside of and exterior to the story, fifty years in the future! Or maybe she's a genius fifty years ahead of her time. Or maybe it's highbrow. ;)

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    1. Yeah. She has no agency outside of what men want. That's the criticism of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.

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  48. Great analysis. Loved the film. I had avoided it on account of the criticism I had read, and when I finally saw it I couldn't relate to it. It wasn't the most exploitative film, not by a long shot. But I must admit I missed much of the symbolism and significance of the movie. Thanks for articulating it so eloquently.

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    1. I'm glad it helped. That's the trick with metaphor. If you do it right, it won't sound moralizing or beat anyone over the head, but then there's a good chance the meaning will be lost on those for whom it doesn't strike a resonant chord.

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  49. Your analysis on Sucker Punch was truly phenomenal. I've watched this movie so many times, and it never fails to sadden me everytime. Particularly the scene where Baby Doll sacrifices herself so that Sweet Pea could have her freedom. Such bravery.

    I think the movie resonates so much with me, because I perceive freedom as this divine and ethereal thing, and I liked watching a group of girls fighting for that freedom, regardless of the dangers that would come with fighting for it.

    And I've also wanted to mention something: baby dolls aren't in control of themselves. They are being controlled. So this would support the theory that it was Sweet Pea's story all along.

    (P.S: I'm a gay dude, so there's no way I could've been aroused by the girls' skimpy outfits. However, I do think Baby Doll, with innocent face, skimpy outfits and all, was truly pretty)

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    1. Oh good point on dolls. They are literally objectified women! Wow.

      And yes, she is very pretty. I would totally cosplay her if I cosplayed.

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  50. I just watched it and was left thinking about it. I love your review - I agree with many points on it, and even the ones I do not agree with are a very interesting premise. I believe movies aren't about "what the director was trying to portray", but what the public sees. And I loved this movie. What I see is similiar to what you see - it's not sad, confusing or "seemingly unreal" because it's a "bad movie" - it's sad, confusing and seemingly unreal because that's the reality women face. I was left with a different view of why the girls are dressed in sexy outfits in the entirety of the movie (even after she's been lobotomized, Baby Doll is still wearing long false lashes, full-on makeup and perfectly done hair), obviously based on my own views of women's sexuality: to me, a woman dressed in a sexy outfit she picked is no exploration of her body or a sexist society-imposed gear; in my view, Baby Doll feels powerful in her skimpy outfits, and if she wants to wear high heels to kill a dragon, who am I to judge. When she's in the brothel, she has to wear the outfits, but when she's inside her mind, she can wear whatever she wants - ans that's what I think she's doing. Wearing whatever the hell makes her feel more like herself. She is the one choosing to look womanly this time, and it is completely dissociated with being sexy for someone - she's just being Baby Doll. Maybe Baby Doll is a girl who likes little skirts. That's OK by me =)
    Love your review! Keep posting!

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    1. Yeah, that's a great insight. Sexual empowerment doesn't mean a renouncement of sexuality, an idea I agree with. This movie demonstrates that, too. Glad you liked the power! :)

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  51. What I'm curious is why Snyder felt the need to depict the heroes as prostitutes. It's one thing to make your heroine a hot ass-kicker, since writers ranging from Joss Whedon on out have been doing it for years, but where does the prostitution angle fit into it? What, exactly, does it add to the theme or the characters?

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    1. It represents the subservient position of women in society and how we're seen by media only as sex objects. I would have hoped that was implied in my analysis. Did I fail to make that point?

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    2. because they are ... or rather "sweet pie" is abused by the nurses .
      i mean she couldnt escape from what they were doing to her, thinking about being a slave of some mafia affiliated men is more acceptable in my eyes than being abused by someone who is supposed to look after her. (which can make her remind of what her stepfather did to her)

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  52. Hi Luna Lindsey, I am currently doing a essay on sucker punch and boy did i find so much depth and info here although there is a argumentative stance by Adam Quigley. I personally liked the movie a lot too and i agree there is lots of meaning and hidden secrets reflected on society. What i would like is your permission to use some of your pointers and some commenters perspective to write my essay on sucker punch.

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    1. Yes, feel free to use! If you quote me, please credit. Thanks! Good luck on your essay.

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  53. I suppose it's up to the viewer to take what they want away from the film. I've read some really great comments about what is real and what is fantasy. From the interviews he's done, it doesn't seem to me like even Snyder understood what he was really saying. He knew what he was TRYING to say, but I think he failed.

    What saddens me is that in any analysis I've read no one comments about the final lines of the movie, which I feel were some of the most important. Sweet Pea says to the audience, or more importantly, I felt it was to the young women in the audience: "...Who chains us and who holds the key that can set us free? It's you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight." I don't understand how Snyder can say this was a pessimistic look at second-wave feminism and not meant to be empowering when it ends on those lines.

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  54. Thanks for your comment. Yes, those are very powerful lines, and they seem very intentional given the context of the rest of the film. I believe Snyder intended the film to be an indictment of the sexism of male geeks. Also, tho his wife co-wrote the script, I don't believe she has been interviewed. Her goals might have been slightly different than his, or if interviewed, she may articulate the goals better. In fact, she may have written that line.

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  55. Just letting you know that people are still reading this :)

    Sucker Punch remains my absolute all-time favorite film. While I feel that Snyder did fail in some respects to get his "message" across, I heartily admire that he TRIED.

    It was an ambitious project to say the least, and pretty much doomed to bomb/fail. The entire film was basically an indictment of its' perceived "target audience", geek/fanboys.

    People who weren't geeks or fanboys dismissed SP as Misogynistic and shallow (generally), and fanboys who "got it" were more than a little angered and felt betrayed.

    I still hold out hope that SP will one day soon-ish attain "cult classic" status.

    Whether it does or not, nothing I've read here or elsewhere diminishes my enjoyment of it one iota.

    For the most part,, mu interpretation of the film aligns pretty closely with yours. I love reading other people's opinions, as it allows me to look something I THOUGHT I "knew" in a different perspective.

    I try to keep an open mind, and I think it's awesome that this many years later, there are still things to discover in this film.

    THANK you for your review, and for maintaining this page!

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    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, I'm hoping it achieves cult status, too. I could see it doing so among geek women, especially.

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  56. I just watched this movie last night and read this analysis today, just wanted to say thank you for this very well thought out review of the film. It filled me with a lot of complex feelings. It's interesting to me how many people seem to miss the point of the movie, I guess we still have a long way to go.

    If you're still reading this by the way, if you could change anything about the movie or how it was presented (trailer, scenes cut, scenes added, ect) what would you change and why?

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    1. I would definitely put back the cut sex scene. I might make parts of the ending a little bit more clear, but not too much more clear. I like that it's open-ended but a few of the symbols, like the meaning of the young boy, and the old man, I'd like clarified a little better.

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  57. As a male, I can say that your line "They came to see a film about fighting girls with tits and asses, and while they're getting that, they're not allowed to be comfortable with their feelings," is spot on. I've never seen a movie do something like play with my nature in such "gotcha!" manner. Men do objectify women (even the good men!) and although it's mostly harmless and sort of 'pre-programmed' in a way (stupid nature), this movie doesn't let a male get away with it. Not only that, it doesn't let us get away with avoiding that we do it, and even worse, shows what damage our objectification can lead to.

    It so beautifully sets up this mythic dance that is so arousing that we won't be able to contain ourselves. Not only that, but it will be performed by this unbelievably beautiful woman (add to that the fact that she does look suspiciously young). She starts with slow, seductive movements as the music kicks in and just when we (I'm referring to 'men' when I say 'we') are about to get going in this beautiful objectification, boom!, it cuts to scenes of violence and women in peril. No sexy dance for us. It lures us in with our nature and shines a big, bright spotlight on what just happened. Not only that, it does it repeatedly!

    A reader will have to take my word that I am one of the "good guys" (been happily married and faithful for over eight years), but even so I was drawn into Snyder's trap. Part of me wonders if the criticisms of the action in the film have anything to do with the fact that those scenes follow ones in which we were just toyed with. I can't say for sure, but I do wonder. Either way, I think this film is just a little too unique in its message and execution that it's difficult for some people to push past what games it's playing with them.

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  58. Nice analysis. Agree/d with the interpretation, and the confused (confusing?) presentation (in service to Snyder's aims) re modern day re/interpretations of feminism. And for years I too read the brothel and conflict fantasy levels as Babydoll's (or, perhaps, Sweet Pea's) mental escape. However, I now think I'm just as guilty of seeing my own lens as much as those straight fanboys whose bad reviews I disparage. There is a good possibility there's no imagined worlds created as an escape, or venue for empowerment. I forgot, there's a little something called allegory, apparently used by storytellers for a couple years now. Great reading of this can be found @ moviemeanings.com/Sucker-Punch. Plus, something about this view actually (and ironically) increases my belief in Babydoll's (SP's? Both?) agency. I like your arguments, even more so your openness to alternate views, so obviously would like any thoughts on this reading of the "fantasy" levels. If you have time to read the first ranking answer on the aforementioned site, that is...
    *disclaimer: gayboy/ survivor/ feminist who loves watching breasts wielding guns and swords! (comment readers note - please hear the wry smile in last sentence)

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