Why Sucker Punch Didn’t Suck
Sucker Punch is a mess…but an intriguing mess.
It’s not nearly as bad as everyone is making it out to be, and there’s a lot to like in there, a lot I was pleasantly surprised to discover. You know it’s got to be worth checking out when it has the interwebs talking about how to represent real female power, what is fetishization, and whether or not Zack Snyder can write or direct original content.
Sucker Punch was ALSO a flick with some fun fandom moments (anime/steampunk chicks fighting nazi zombies, orks and robots!) and pretty action sequences. It would have been nice to tie them into the plot a bit better.
The plot itself is heaped high with lots of subtle and not-so-subtle implied rape with a dash of Inception style layers thrown in for extra confusion. Or maybe not so confused. If you could reasonably grasp Inception or the basic idea of a musical which ramps up and distorts reality, you’ll probably do OK here.
One reviewer describes it as either stupid or brilliant. Sometimes both at once. And some have categorized it as the death of movie-making. But I wouldn’t go that far. I did think there were unpleasantries, but those were mostly centered around the subtext of the film. Which was rape.
So…about the rape.
It does get exhausting watching women fear the possibility of rape or physical punishment at every turn. Rather than…you know…death. There’s this annoyingly prevalent idea in society that the worst thing that could happen to a woman is sexual violation and that once this occurs she is broken beyond repair. The only way to fix her is revenge, extracted by the woman herself or via the boyfriend/brother/father. Either that or she goes crazy and can rarely be suffered to live. In fact, (sarcasm) the best kind of way to use rape in a story is if the woman does die. It’s clean. No one has to deal with all the emotion surrounding it, and the male protagonist can move on and possibly end up in romantic entanglements with someone equally attractive.
Rape is not the only female tragedy with which to hinge a story on or to manipulate audience interest in women. It’s one of the most common and perhaps most visceral, but because of that, it’s a fucking cop-out. We do, in fact, fear other things AND we get tired of the idea that we SHOULD fear sexual violation at every turn. It clouds our relationships, our late night trips to the grocery store, a seemingly innocent conversation in a confined space with a strange man. Constant vigilance is harmful to your psyche. We don’t need a movie to tell us that.
What I did appreciate about the subtext?
It wasn’t used as a plot device for a dude to go on a roaring rampage.
Though it does feature women on a “killing” spree to obtain needed items (none of the ladies actually “kill” anyone or anything human). Some of the best female film heroines (The Bride, Ripley, Sarah Connor) were kicking ass for totally different and frankly more compelling reasons.
Have to hand it to Snyder though, there was NO exploration of how men in the story felt about the rape of a woman. So that was a nice change of pace. The subtext/rapey sequences are all about the ladies, how they deal and their experiences.
What I don’t really understand is the ire of the internets against this film. Very few people have taken the opportunity to examine all the layers within it. Cause on first and second glance it is loud and cheesy. Sexist and stupid. But after spending the last five days turning it over in my mind and reading so many different opinions about it…I’m not convinced there weren’t some actual brilliant flashes that I was just overlooking in the desire to see my own fantasies lived out on screen.
The thing about chick empowerment films, is they should probably be written and/or heavily influenced by womens. Otherwise, people question motives and subtext gets lost in this weird mix of forced sex, slavery and empowerment. I could sense the presence of layers that aren’t often explored in female action flicks – the relationship between the two sisters, the lack of competition for male attention between the ladies, and the motherly affection of the therapist/dance instructor for her patients/dancers.
Sure, there are tropes in bucketloads, but then there ARE subversive female elements which you do not often see in big budget Hollywood films centering on women, no matter what genre. You rarely see women interact with each other in a positive, supportive way and hardly ever see ladies fight alongside one another, rather than against. Hell, there’s rarely more than one woman in any action movie to do either of the above mentioned things.
Sadly, even when a cast is comprised of mostly women and the main character is a woman, there is very little sense of comraderie and the dialogue is almost always about DUDES. Did you see that dude? Are you sleeping with that dude? Are you gonna marry that dude? Did you have that dudes baby? Did that dude break your heart?
There is no romance here. There is no love except for sisterly, feminine love and regardless of all the clothes and dumb, crazy action…there is something to this film which cannot be denied. Which many people are refusing to talk about because there isn’t much precedence and probably no real vocabulary to define it.
Despite all the oogy fetish and oppression tropes, this film does merit the mention of how well it defies so much of male movie logic (re: movie logic). Honestly, I’m trying to think of a single moment where I thought – now that is just totally absurdly over-sexualizing the characters. Outside of the anime-esque costumes and the Burlesque-brothel trappings which echoed sexy but never really carried through…I’m feeling rather stumped. I can think of 10 sexier things I watched on television or saw on the internet tonight. Skimpier outfits. Sex kitten poses. You name it.
PLUS – I actually dug the costumes! For the most part they had reasonable combat shoes. Especially Sweet Pea – with that kick-ass hood and shoulder armor she could have stepped right out of Dragon Age II. Blondie’s seemed the most functional (except for the too-much boob), like something you’d actually want to wear into combat. Maybe a combo between Sweet Pea and Blondie. I smell loads of cosplay for these characters in the future. Even if feminist geeks (which is most of them) and male geeks didn’t get on board, several of those costumes are too awesome to hate on.
And Jenna Malone rocked her guns with flair. If someone could quick put her in another action movie that would be fantastic. She ate up the screen when she was on it.
Bechdel Test: Sucker Punch features more than two female characters with names and DOES PASS the women test, DOES NOT PASS the men test (two men are featured but do not talk about anything but the ladies) and features more than two minority characters who DO NOT have names so it DOES NOT PASS the race test.
There’s so much happening in this film, and probably so much more we didn’t see that was left on the cutting room floor (like, ya know, 18 minutes and all the ladies character specific dance sequences). I’d like to watch it at least one more time, probably on DVD with all the special features. Especially since two of my favorite actresses in this movie, Abbie Cornish and Jenna Malone, had a great time filming it and were attracted to the different layers in the material. Read some links below to learn more about the internets thoughts.