Hello g33ks and m33ks and all of you who made it back from the Distant Planet (not everyone does). I’ve got to get this down before I go to sleep tonight because I don’t want time to color my perception of this film. Sucker Punch is a movie that is a major conundrum for most people. The trailer doesn’t seem to explain what this movie will actually be when you sit down to watch it. How is it that we can go from a 1930’s era insane asylum to an anime world featuring demonic samurai or to a WW1 battlefield full of steampunk zombies? What is at stake for our main character Babydoll (Emily Browning) is it her life, her mind, her ‘innocence’? How can a movie take us to all the places it does and still make sense when its done?
Those are a lot of fair questions… I’ll try to answer them without spoiling the movie for all you.
The film begins on a stage. Not a stage within the film. A stage. The Warner Brothers logo appears on the curtain and when it pulls back we can see into Babydoll’s bedroom but we can also see the ladders, lights, cables etc you would see backstage of any Broadway musical. This is one of the first images of the film and does quite a bit to express the intent of director Zach Snyder. This film is a stage performance in many ways featuring cast members singing songs and an emphasis on dance routines. It asks the audience to accept several different levels of ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’ in order to tell a visual tale unlike any you’ve ever seen.
Through a series of increasingly tragic situations our main heroine Babydoll is taken from her home, her fortune and her family and sent to Lennox House; a home for the criminally insane. Inside Lennox House her Stepfather makes a deal with an orderly named Blue (Oscar Issac) to set her up for a lobotomy within the next 5 days. This is necessary because Babydoll will be questioned by the police regarding the circumstances of her commitment and her stepfather’s guilt in certain actions could come to light. Babydoll overhears their plans for her and when met with her fate we experience a shift in her ‘reality’.
Lennox House is run by Blue as a playground for wealthy and powerful men where the more beautiful prisoners are trained to dance on stage and then sleep with the patrons. The ‘reality’ change turns Lennox House into a swanky club where the girls’ clothing becomes more akin to classic burlesque gear. It is definitely disturbing considering that while they list Babydoll’s age as 20 when committing her it is possible that her actual age is much younger. She certainly appears to be younger especially considering the costuming she is eventually given for her performances. In charge of treating the girls as well as training them for work in the brothel, is Dr./Madam Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino). She utilizes performance therapy to try and help the young women engage the major disturbances in their pasts and survive their horrid present lives. Her shining star and lead performer is the hard edged, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) who is defacto leader of the other performers in the Theatre. Sweet Pea’s sister and Babydoll’s confidant and true believer, Rocket (Jena Malone) shows her the ropes and introduces Babydoll to Blondie, master of seduction (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber, the preferred choice for a major VIP (Jaime Chung).
Babydoll is sent to her first performance rehearsal and this is where we are sent into our next ‘reality’ shift. If this film is built on the concept of a musical then imagine all fight sequences are the traditional song and dance moments for this film. Babydoll’s dances take her into the deepest recesses of her mind where she battles different creatures for her survival. Doing this allows her to dance in a manner that mesmerizes all who see it, though we are never privy to see her performances in the film itself we do see their effect especially on the men who watch her. This technique becomes an integral part of the escape plan, because if Babydoll can basically hypnotize the guards the other girls can complete the other portions of their mission.
This is a film I truly enjoyed watching, especially with an audience that was along for the ride. I imagine that if a less enthusiastic audience were thrown into the equation it might actually kill some of the fun. That said there are some flaws. It is OBVIOUS that this is not Zack Snyder’s final cut of the film. There are some elements that have been discussed by the actresses and other cast and crew as being cut entirely from the film. Even during the credits there are elements of musical numbers that were removed, (ones the audience could actually see) and there are definitely lines that have been removed in order to garner the film a PG-13 rating. I’ve seen written somewhere that Zack Snyder is promising an unrated or R-rated cut of this film and that is a day one purchase for me. I need to see the elements that fell to the cutting room floor. They will make this a more complete experience for me as a fan of the film and actually could change the minds of those who are not on board.
Many critics are slamming this film as being visually stunning but with no in depth look inside the characters it is lacking in overall value. That would be fair except that a lot of the same critics wrote positive reviews of the film 300. Now I don’t want to say that misogyny or some kind of interred fear of the strong feminine committing violence is ingrained into film critics and therefore removes their opinions from having any weight but… come on. 300 does not feature any in depth character growth, everyone is literally ripped from the pages of a comic book. Its violence first and violence last storytelling but for whatever reason we are allowed to enjoy it because it’s a bunch of impossibly ripped men destroying an army through sheer will. Meanwhile a story that utilizes cunning, subterfuge as well as violence is being decimated on the page by film critics who would happily watch with glee (and popcorn) as prone suffering men are finished off one by one with a spear. Its hard to discuss this film without discussing our view of females in film because I know for a fact that it is a major problem. (Try writing a script with a strong female lead and have her perform a violent act and watch what happens) Kick-Ass, Let Me In, Sucker Punch and the upcoming Hanna have all had to answer questions about the violence committed by young girls in a society where we vaunt the male indiscriminate killer on celluloid.
So now that I’ve seen this movie that I’ve been waiting for since before it went into production I can add Zack Snyder to the group of directors whose entire film catalogue I enjoy. He made a film that really deserves to be seen in a theatre and hopefully with an audience that is enjoying it. Not everyone will like Sucker Punch as it definitely seeks to knock the wind out of your sails in key moments but while the boats in motion its an amazing ride.
– Mr. Khon