Sucker Punch (2011): a feminist masterpiece that men hate – (9/10)

sucker punchAt the end of this movie, the dude behind me said four times “Is no one else in this theatre confused?”. Perhaps to the poor girl sitting next to him? He spaced these outbursts out, as if he’d gone blind and deaf with his idiocy, and was hoping a bro’ could throw him a lifeline. As if he hoped other redneck idjits would rise up and join torches to burn the puzzle outta this town. I turned to my girlfriend and loudly growled “I think someone in this theatre is actually confused.” (He got up and left).

Then the two dipshits in front of me whipped out their cell phones (slash: flashlights) and tried to distract me from the STILL GOING ON work of art on the screen. The film’s end credits contain an entire original dance sequence and musical number, showing you an entire epic scene that was hinted at but never shown during the main story. They are a stylized PART OF THE MOVIE. But everyone was up and walking out, or checking in with their facebook. I leaned in and read their texting over their shoulders and blew on their hair. I whipped out my phone and shined it in the sides of their faces (but this just elicited a minor confused looks). They struck me as this weird alien species, masquerading as men, who missed class the day “how to watch a movie” was explained.

This was a great movie, and a lot of people don’t deserve it.

It’s the kind of film that tried to speak to you outside of reality (arguably in a truer language, of pure dreams). Ridiculously pretty people go through strange symbolic motions, spouting cryptic one liners and silly catch phrases. It is not Black Swan. It is not Empire Strikes Back. It is The Fountain. It is The Box. It is Tron Legacy. It slips subversive symbols and ideas into your head while you’re distracted in its spectacle. While you’re looking at well toned crotches and cleavage.

This is a movie about doing something for the ladies. About how women can free themselves from the inequality of a culture rooted in the superiority of men. I think it’s interesting so many men hate it, and claim it has nothing to say.

How can you say the metaphors don’t add up? I need to look up the exact dream meanings of “maze, fire, snake, knife, and key” – I don’t know what they suggest about your subconscious when they appear in a dream – but i’m not such a fuckwit that I’d claim there were random items with no importance to the film. jesus fucking christ, critics. how can you say “she dreams about fighting a giant fire breathing penis, but I don’t think it meant anything. this movie is stupid.” So many critics I want to punch in the brain right now.

Anytime someone says “the artist seems to be trying to make some sort of point, with some sort of emphasized set of symbols – but I think it’s all just meaningless gobbeldygook,” I hope you can lose a little respect for them. Critics are supposed to take art seriously, not dismiss it as too difficult to dive into. *&$^%@!

Ahem. Spoilers follow:

Anywho. This was a movie about taking back male dominated action genres for women. From the samurai sword fight to the trenches of WWI to the knights who storm a fantasy castle, to the crooks who pull off a train heist – the film latches onto images you’ve seen a million times – and lets women storm through beating the shit out of all the guys.

It has a weird mostly-cool soundtrack of nothing-but-covers, which reinforces the core theme of adapting someone’s else’s art to have a new meaning in your own story (an important message from Zack Snyder, the director of nothing-but-adaptations-until-now).

I feel like I should watch Cabaret again to see what it says about feminism and escapism… but I probably won’t. Not a fan of that movie/musical/whatever. Even without whatever insights i’m losing there, I can still tell Sucker Punch was a very strong feminist statement about using the performance that women have to put on everyday in this “Man’s World.”

I think they were also showing how you can incorporate the memorable parts of the ugly world around you into your performance. I think they were also showing that a woman can use this trick to liberate herself from the insanity of inequality. I worry that I have an unfair advantage in enjoying this movie, because I spent much of the last week pondering the excellent articles as Pop Matters, which dissect the feminist teachings of joss whedon’s body of work. I may have unfair advantage because I’ve seen and enjoy Whedon’s excellent speech about his belief in gender equality.

I hope the critics who are dismissing this movie will be informed that it is about empowering women (and not a random nonsensical male masturbation.)(… perhaps the movie works as a mirror for misogynist critics?). The damning reviews this picture is getting are disgusting.

that said,
a lot of the performances fall a little flat. I was overwhelmed by the suspicion that the lead bad man, Blue Jones (aka blue balls?), was trying very hard to be Jeffery Dean Morgan (the super manly man who played The Comedian in Snyder’s previous film). I scoured these internets, searching for any sign that the part was written for Morgan, and that Snyder forced Oscar Isaac to pretend he was in fact Morgan. but… no dice. maybe I’m crazy. I hope i’ve stuck this splinter in your brain though. Sorry if it ruins Isaac’s performance. But i think his performance is already the worst thing about the movie. He seems like a posturing teenager. He should have been the ultimate sweaty hairy man’s man.

I also thought some of the ladies came off a little flat. I felt like I was getting teary eyed because it was clearly written, shot, cued and edited to be an emotional moment. Not because I was invested in the performance. I was not surprised to find there was a lot of casting shuffle for the girl squad. (though I’m surprised any woman would turn down a role in the ultimate girl power film). … I wonder if Snyder was labeled as a misogynist due to the success of 300? maybe women were afraid to work with him? Maybe this whole Sucker Punch is meant to be “Suprise, I love women too!” … kinda icky to think this. but wouldn’t reject the idea.

anywho. With the opening endless sequence of perfectly orchestrated slow motion camera moves, I remember thinking “Maybe you just can’t do this sort of movie any more. I wonder when perfect camera moves and rich moody lighting officially jumped the shark… Was it the first Matrix? Was it The Fountain? Panic Room? Is that why Aronofsky switched to shaky handheld shit aesthetics?”. I thought all this as they wheeled her into the asylum. It was a birds eye view of doors opening, followed by a perfect pan to follow them down the hall. I kinda forgot about it (and enjoyed the subtlety of a shot where she is held in the background behind a huge white X, having been buzzed into the ward), until much later in the film. There’s a shot on the train where a bullet casing flies into camera, and we turn to see what’s behind it. This shot struck me as: the end of this sort of filmmaking. I didn’t feel there was a point to the focus on this spent casing (though maybe the filmmaker is acknowledging how the audience feels a little spent at this point, with the endless action? … possible.). Really, it felt like there were excited to pull of this action scene camera-pan cliche with such a tiny object. oof. hmm.

anywho. moving on.

The movie reminds me a lot of “panic room” for some reason. …Perfect camera movies. …Something designed to be a guilty pleasure at first glance, which turns into a deep modern “female empowerment” statement by the end. But this film succeeds where that flick failed, by focusing on multiple “hot chicks” – who are still young and dress in a sexy clothing. Sucker Punch manages to the make the “lascivious sleaze” into just another symbol. Which is why it’s such a fucking amazing achievement.

22 thoughts on “Sucker Punch (2011): a feminist masterpiece that men hate – (9/10)

  1. random unformed followup thoughts:
    I have this sense that Rocket didn’t actually exist in the asylum. That she’s purely a projection of baby dolls accidentally killed little sister.
    I wonder if the pipe that was broken in her house at the beginning was just spewing steam. I thought it was gas at first, and maybe suggested nobody made it out of that house. hmm.

    Maybe I should have gone into more detail about the obvious symbolism of the movie in the review. the idea that the movie takes place at the moment of “death”. but in this case, its the brain death caused by lobotomy, not body death. It’s directly addressed by the actors on the stage, who complain that lobotomy is the wrong way to go in a play about being sexy. That moment is so HUGE and FORCED that I’m stunned people were still confused about what the movie is doing.

    There are many themes swirling around about the similarities between film and dream. The way she magically looks up from her lobotomy in the end, is purely a film moment. and it really strikes me for some reason. it’s that thing you want to see, but didn’t expect to see. and it’s a good thing. (you’re expecting a bloody mangled eye/face, but instead it’s unspoiled. and then wakes up! wee!

    I’ve yet to read a review that points how Sucker Punch delivers all the crazy spectacle that many claimed they wanted to see in the dreams of Inception. sigh. SIGH. (but I haven’t read many intelligent reviews at all really). (yet I shoulder on, ruining my night! weee! FUCK ME!!! YIIPPPEEE!)

    fuck that “massawyrm” asshole at AICN. was he paid to write such a false aweful review? jesus christ I hate that guy.

  2. Way to speak up to the bros in the theater Warren. It is fun to show up the cowardice of the rude.

    On the other hand, this is a woman’s world, not a man’s as u state. But u r someone worth disagreeing with civilized like.

  3. spent a bit of time wondering at the death of “decorum” last night. does it have any place in modern society? (sure I want it. but why?) (does it reiforce a sort of class-ism?)

    was just daydreaming another thought on the movie:
    i’m curious why some critics think the end credits were full of deleted scenes – and not designed that way from the start. insider info?

    I thought the idea was that they were showing us the dance scene we’d been denied during the movie, as a commentary on the idea of credit sequences. a peek into the space you were NOT supposed to be looking during the film proper.
    (more clearly: the film repeatedly sets you up to see “the sexiest sleazy girl dance ever,” but instead shows you what she’s thinking about during her performance – and you see that her mind is more interesting than her body’s dance.)

    Specifically, I assumed the end credits’ dance/singing were all taken from the performance on stage during babydoll/sweetPea’s escape. Ie, I thought we were seeing “the big number” that the heroins avoided.

    anywho. just curious about this one detail of Harry Knowle’s AICN review.

  4. Interesting insights.

    I feel the same about the poor reviews, and the number of people who just don’t “get it”. I have some further thoughts on why it is getting such negative press, partly because of how “real” the movie was, how it showed the reality for women in the 20th century (and even still today), and that this breaks society’s own fantasy that everything is just fine. If you’re curious, it’s on my blog:

    1. Really dig your thoughts.
      Lots of context there I wasn’t aware of. Thanks for writing it out!

      also, the jungian comment on your blog blew my mind. (for others) Gwen wrote:
      “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.”

  5. Um…no. This flick was a creepy perv’s rape fantasy–nothing more. There’s nothing feminist or empowering about it, and every camera angle is designed to titillate the viewer in a sick, creepy way. It’s just Rapey McRapelton’s Child Rape Fest. I really didn’t expect to leave what I initially believed to be an action movie thinking about rape, mental institutions where rape continues, and the leucotomy (incorrectly referred to as “lobotomy” throughout the film–the lobotomy was actually a different procedure–please refer to a psychosurgery text).

    Interesting concept, way too much pervy leering and rape. The action sequences in which Babydoll wins over evil just weren’t comforting enough to take my mind away from what was actually happening to her in that institution. I had trouble sleeping.

    1. uh, nope.
      dismissing the depths of thought behind this movie as nothing more than creepy perv rape fantasy is astonishingly irresponsible. There might be creepy perv rape fantasy (i don’t think so, but i’ll concede the possibility), but there is CLEARLY much more going on.

      Sounds like you were expecting an action movie and got… Sucker Punched! booyah. almost like this was the whole intention of the movie.

      in related news (of how wrong you are), there are in fact movies that show sex on screen, and even titillate the audience with graphic rape sequences. some movies even show women dancing in suggestive ways! it’s crazy. all these other movies you should probably watch if you’re concerned about pervy leering and rape.

      geezuz fucking chrizzzzt.

    2. Pretty sure that was the point. It was a pessimistic depiction of sexism and male domineering. If you considered the movie creepy rape-fantasy masturbation material then that says more about your personality than Snyders. Also, where are you getting child rape from? The youngest character was 20 years old… I mean it’s implied that Babydolls’ sister was abused but it was never shown. The film is MEANT to make you uncomfortable. It is meant to make you feel awful that this kind of shit goes on. The only “creepy perv” in the film is the villain (who is so very very hateable). The creepiest of the creepy – but we get to see Babydoll stab him and get to see him arrested.
      And no, they didn’t incorrectly use the word lobotomy. Leucotomy is just another word for it (it means “slice/cut white” in Greek.) They performed a trans-orbital lobotomy with a leucotome (That thing that looks like an ice pick).

  6. According to Zack Snyder himself, in an interview, he intentionally avoided titillating shots of the type he and other directors would put into any other movie. The only thing “sexy” was their outfits (which are the same as any other action flick with women). He wanted to put the responsibility for any titillation on the audience. And apparently, the audience has quite a load to bear — you are not the first to call this a “rape fantasy”. He points out that as Baby Doll dances for the “men in the dark”, the /real/ men in the dark are the fanboys in the audience. He wanted to show that the modern action film with scantily-clad babes is no different than the bordellos and cabarets of yesteryear. Most films do it in such a way as to leave the viewer comfortable with their own feelings — they are distracted with a revenge plot, or a hero to save the damsel. Usually the women are cowering in fear, and either come back to kill the villain or a hero comes to kill the villain — but THIS film gives the viewer no such scapegoat, and they are left to see who they /really/ are. And what society really is.

    The full interview here:

    This will never be a crowd favorite because the crowd never gets what they want, and they are too horrified by the reality of themselves and our world, where rape victims never see justice met. Where rape victims have lasting scars. But because of how artistically Snyder pulled off this trick, it /will/ be a cult classic. We haven’t seen the end of Sucker Punch.

    And you’re wrong about lobotomies. They are referred to, both in and out of the medical field, as both lobotomies and leucotomies. When a writer needs to choose a term to portray a plot point in her story, she uses the most recognized term so people aren’t confused.

  7. There is nothing feminist about this movie.
    The only power the female characters have is to make up fantasy worlds. The only ways of escape for them are being guided out by a man, lobotomy (done by a man), or death (also though a man).
    There is very little connection, very little humanity between, or displayed by the female characters – actually, any of the characters.
    The film establishes the horror of the asylum (with visuals), but we don’t get to see actual /people/ in distress – we see some tears, and some bickering, and communication an escape plan. We a ton of meaningless lines straight out of the Fortune Cookie jar. But we don’t get to see girls acting like girls. Just dolls.

    Now, I wouldn’t be so horrified if Snyder had just made a silly action movie for the sake of making a silly action movie. But dressing up this travesty in false feminism is sickening.

    1. with all due respect: you’re blind.
      I hope you will consider the possibility that you’ve purposefully misinterpreted the message/goal of the art.

      – An older woman fires the man who faked her signature, disrupting the order of this male dominated institution.
      This only comes about because of the way another younger woman willingly sacrificed her body and mind.

      – The lobotomizer is the first man in the system to offer compassion, because he can’t understand the look on the face of his victim. He is disturbed and changed by her look, even while he performs his function. Her final face is what leads him to ask another woman for help in understanding what was going on.

      – The imaginary old man inside babydoll’s fantasies says he is a guide, but mutters vague/useless quips (syllogisms? i can’t remember them, honestly). In the end, he offers sweet pea an act of kindness with no hope of reward. shows compassion. the message here is that breaking free of the patriarchal system will be made easier when some men decide to help. The message is that this is her final fantasy.

      Don’t overlook the fact that sweet pea isn’t dragged kicking and screaming onto the bus. she is trying to do something under her own power. she has the courage to try and leave.

      Arguably, the goal of this bus sequence is either: to make men think about how much a small act of compassion can help in the woman’s struggle against patriarchal oppression, or to horrify the viewer that true escape is only the fantasy of a brain dead woman.

      Either way, the final line is babydoll’s voice over – that this movie has been a guide to unlocking the tools inside your own mind. it is a call to action. Even if you insist on believing that no woman ever discovered any sort of abuse-resisting empowerment, this final line should stand out as the “get of your ass” reaction to such a dark movie.

      Anywho. I’m thinking about this all from the Radical Feminism perspective (tearing down the patriarchal system that has oppressed women for some time). Maybe you are focusing in on another variant?

      i’m stunned by your claims that there is NOTHING feminist here. and that you are HORRIFIED the creator of 300 didn’t just make another silly action movie. Even if he got it wrong, he opened the door to more discussions of feminism. i suspect you are exaggerating for effect. thbbt.

      – I’d wager you were mostly put off by the lack of characterization. I keep hearing this complaint in various forms. the lack of grounding reality that would make these seem like real women in the real world. but this is a film about symbolism. there is more to art than tricky drama conventions.
      (after snyder’s great success with the variety of interesting characters in Dawn of the Dead, I have to believe he is capable of good characterization. and just chose to go elsewhere in subsequent movies).

      But i appreciate your critique of my critique, and will be more cautious about claiming Sucker Punch was an important feminist statement in public.

  8. Vidhero, don’t be more cautious about making bold claims. 🙂 You’re backing them up very well, and I’ve enjoyed watching this debate. I still believe it is an important feminist statement, and haven’t (and won’t) back down from my own words on the subject.

    This was a controversial movie. Calling Sucker Punch anti-feminist for “showing it like it is” would be like calling “Roots” racist for depicting slavery in its harsh reality. So keep on making bold statements, in spite of the controversy. 😀

    1. Do not compare this kitch drivel to the well researched historical narrative Roots. Learn the difference between Fiction and Non-fiction

      1. Ah, you’re giving commands, Mr. first name only guy. How novel!
        Nothing says “i respect your thoughts on feminism” like a man rudely telling a woman what she should go do. Bravo!

        I can’t tell if you genuinely didn’t understand Luna’s comment (or refuse to), or are just trolling because you have a childish sense of humor and enjoy being mean. But in case you genuinely didn’t get it – she didn’t write that Sucker Punch is a historical narrative. She’s wrote that sucker punch dared to show how ugly men are to women. She went on to make her real point, which was a supportive statement about taking the time to address those shallow criticisms which completely misunderstand controversial movies.

        Changing the topic (from the feminism of Sucker Punch), so you can imply someone cannot differentiate between fiction and non fiction is pointless and destructive. I hope you can see that by missing the point, you have only contributed a distracting negativity. I hope that you’ll try harder to take part in the next conversation about feminism and/or Sucker Punch.

  9. I don’t believe sweet pea was real – the only real sweet pea was in the first scene she appeared after this I think sweet pea was an inner part of baby doll, and someone she wanted to be. The last scene with sweet pea features the wise man and therefore must be a part of baby doll’s mind – lobotomized she is free to become sweet pea and leave the world behind.
    I think the film is like a female version of fight club. Fight club was about a guy struggling with his role in society and comes up with a ‘solution’ however self destructive. Sucker punch is very similar but a lot darker – she is a girl who struggles with her role in society and finds an equally self destructive solution. Both solutions in Fight club and Sucker punch free the protagonist in some way. It is sad that baby dolls solution is to live in her world, rather than the real world – and I think this is why so many people object to the movie – they want a bubble gum girl power empowering movie not a movie about the real world and how horrific it actually can be for many women. The suffering for women is often permanent, and I have not seen another film which makes it as clear as Sucker punch.

    1. I would say that too, but the doctor mentions that Babydoll did in fact help another patient escape… So some equialent of sweet pea must have existed. The worrying thing is that this was a mental institution and while Babydoll (god I hate using that name) was wrongfully institutionalized it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else was too

  10. No disrespect to the flag waving of the feminist fans. But as a male that embraced the deep tension, that in my “male chauvinistic” opinion… Not … I interpreted the theatrical message more as a struggle, and non conformance to social domination, either political, “social value systems” and a poetic submission to the price needed to be paid to escape. I not drinking the gender entitlement koolaid to own this struggle. But I do appreciate the emotions triggered by the storyline….raw and cutting…. A masterpiece that this “Man” loves

  11. I loved the film for the adventure part of it. It was really sad, and I wish that her father had gotten caught at the end. I just wanted to know, does anyone know who the guy at the end is? When she wakes up in this guy’s room, and he’s kind of ‘bought’ her, and he start rambling on about freedom and stuff, then it goes straight into the lab where they are erasing her memory. Was she dreaming? I don’t see why that part of the movie was important really, since it seems to be a random scene that makes no sense. Anyone help? Thanks

    1. You saw the director’s cut then.
      that guy is “the high roller.” If you go back and watch it again, he’s mentioned throughout the film, as the man who will be purchasing baby doll (as in : the bordello sense).
      he’s not really rambling (that would imply it was random or meaningless), so much as he’s preaching a certain perspective.
      Doesn’t sound like you’re into the symbolism, but it’s pointed that this uber-masculine dude (known for his part on Mad Men) is buying her like so much meat in one reality, and is lobotomizing her in another.
      p.s. lobotomy isn’t a memory erasing procedure. it’s shoving a needle past your eyeball into your brain, then wiggling it around to sever connections between the two lobes. it breaks your brains ability to pass signals around, and inhibits it’s ability to function. People used to think mutilation was viable medicine for treating insane people. also, people use to commit women to insane asylums for being difficult. tons of creepy things here that are worth looking up.

  12. No, I get it. That does not dismiss that it is a bad movie. All positive reviews mirror those of Donnie Darko, or grasp at straws to find any validation thanks to that year in college with the really cool prof. It does objectify and demean these girls. The costumes were designed and sized to fit these actresses, so the intent was for them to be skimpy.

    Yes, 300 objectified men and women. The sex scene in 300 was pornographic and uncalled for. It was just thrown in there. The sex scene(non-rape) in Watchmen was long and pointless…and a little creepy. He is a bad director clearly out only to fulfill his perverted fantasies.

    Im a pervert, but this guy is discusting.

    1. I do not think you understand what Snyder is trying to do in any of the 3 movies you mention. What’s weird is that you don’t seem to want to…. not sure which comment you were replying to with the “no i get it.” so maybe I shouldn’t push it. context context context.

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