Review: Sucker Punch

I had the opportunity to see the midnight release this past Thursday of Sucker Punch, and while I know many reviewers, known and unknown, have shared their thoughts already I felt like it’s time to share mine.

Story:

Sucker Punch is the tale of a young girl, played by Emily Browning, who along with her sister are left in the care of their abusive step-father after their mom’s death. Emily’s character, known only as Baby Doll, tries to escape from her step-father, but in the process he corners and hits her sister. Baby Doll sees that her sister died from the blow, and tries to fight off her father to no avail. Baby Doll is then sent by her father to an insane asylum where, after bribing the director to keep this secret, she is to be scheduled for a lobotomy in five days. Upon entering she meets other presumably sane women, and together they hatch a plot to escape. To do so, and to survive the horrible circumstances, they enter elaborate fantasy worlds where they mimic their real life actions and fight for their freedom.

Characters:

Baby Doll is at first treated as an outsider by the other girls in the asylum; however, unlike the girls already in the asylum, Baby Doll’s will to fight remains and thus she serves as an inspiration and a catalyst for the escape attempt. Baby Doll also, although it’s never shown on screen, apparently performs a dance so beautiful, or so seductive, that it hypnotizes the watchers. Using this power she is able to distract the guards, thus allowing the girls to carry out their tasks in preperation for the escape. During these moments her mind projects vasts fantasy worlds where the girls fight including ones set in World War I, Edo era Japan, a Middle Earth realm, and a futuristic iRobot-like society.

Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie, and Amber are the other four girls locked in the asylum that we’re introduced to. Sweet Pea, who is the leader of the group, and Blondie are sisters, who for all purposes seem to also share an abusive history perhaps akin to Baby Doll’s. Blondie and Amber’s pasts are not featured, or hinted at as often, but they too make up the escape team. Sweet Pea and Baby Doll butt heads often, especially when debating the merits of fleeing from the insane asylum at all.

Visuals

As expected of the director of Watchmen and 300, Zack Snyder brought the full force of his visual expertise to bear.  As the girls fought hordes of World War I zombies, dive bomb over Tolkien-esque castles, or fight 1 vs 3, as Baby Doll does, against mega-Samurai warriors made of stone, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the spectacle on the screen. Understandably fans may feel a little disconnected from the events that occur before and after these high-packed action sequences, but I feel that a) without these moments the movie would be even more depressing than it already is and that b) these worlds, obviously built on fantasy, are meant to represent Baby Doll’s fighting spirit, along with her inner determination to escape prior to her upcoming lobotomy. In fact I’d go so far as to say that this is a last ditch attempt by Baby Doll to use what she might lose – her mind.

Soundtrack

During the first five minutes of the film I leaned over to a friend sitting next to me and said “I can already tell I’m going to like the soundtrack’. To my delight this ended up being true as the rest of the soundtrack lived up to my early expectations. What really drew me to the soundtrack upon first listen was the frequent use of well done cover songs made to truly fit the mood.  I feel that creating original music for a soundtrack certainly comes with its own difficulties, but perhaps even more difficult is to create quality, original versions of beloved songs. My favorite songs are those sung by Baby Doll’s actress Emily Browning, although the Beatles cover and Queen mash-up I felt were quite well done too. I especially felt that, while the songs stand on their own as well, the onscreen match-up with the scenes worked wonderfully as well. If you take nothing else away from this film I at least hope you give the soundtrack a couple listens.

Themes (w/ Potential Spoilers)

Don’t let anyone tell you Sucker Punch is nothing but an action packed movie filled with fantasy elements simply used to titillate the viewer, because while that’s one component of this film, in my opinion the heart of the film is the dark reality going on behind the dreams. In fact the reasoning behind the fantasy scenes in the plot, as inferred by the character Dr. Gorski’s lines, is to allow the girls a chance to find a happier place to escape to within their own mind.  The concept of dettachment and layering consciousnesses plays heavily into the film from the first moment we see the asylum till the very end of the film. While I know this has confused some viewers, I found these sequences rather enlightening. In particular the shift from the dance hall, which is the first fantasy we enter, to the fighting sequences represents for me a shift of power between Sweet Pea and Baby Doll. Sweet Pea, who acts as the big sister for the other girls in the asylum, has, at Dr. Gorski’s suggestion, taken to the dance hall fantasy as a way of dealing with the horrors of the asylum. Baby Doll though, who is not content with simply living in this dream, conjures up the grander action sequences as a means to fight the asylum, and therefore as the film goes on we see more and more of these moments where, both mentally and in reality, the girls fight.

Of course why would a movie need to layer itself upon itself so many times? *ahem Inception* Well to deal with the overlying darkness that pervades throughout this film – domestic abuse. I feel that this is the component that most reviewers overlook when discussing this film, because they simply note the tragic motivation, say it has nothing to do with the surreal worlds, and move on. On the contrary I think what Baby Doll, and the other girls, have experienced is exactly why their imaginations speak so much louder than one might assume an average person’s would. For instance, right off the bat you must consider how strong Baby Doll is in the action sequences, and how contrary that image is to her actual strength in the real world. Baby Doll wanted to protect her sister, and failed, she wanted to protect herself, and failed thus far, and now she’s wanting to protect the other girls in the asylum as well as herself, but she’s having a hard time of it. So she projects a world where she, for the most part, she is having great success, conquering her demons, and facing down all evil.

Rocket, who serves as Baby Doll’s first friend in the asylum, seems to embrace this fantasy realm too for many of the same reasons. Sweet Pea, Rocket’s older sister, seems to be hardened by the world, and presumably similar abuses in the home, so she’s most worried about protecting herself in the real her and now. However Sweet Pea, enthused perhaps by Rocket’s newfound joy, decides to also place her faith in Baby Doll’s dream, and leaves her fantasy of the dance behind.

While the girls themselves seem to be the most obvious victims of abuse, and thus the most likely to seek shelter in fantasy realms, by the end of the film Dr. Gorski also seems to be herself a victim of abuse. While I don’t have any direct connection with domestic abuse, through friends, family, or personal experiences, having seen similar plots portrayed in media I got the feeling that Dr. Gorski represents the mother figure for these girls. In this sense she seems to want to protect the girls from Blue Jones, the asylum head, likely through the projected dance fantasy, but at the same time she is a victim herself, as is clearly indicated in a confrontational scene with Blue Jones. You can probably take this one step further too by saying that Dr. Gorski also represents the wife who is unwilling to leave her her husband even though she is clearly aware of the abuses taking place in her very home. This is a frequent theme in abuse tales, both real and fictional, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is actually the train of thought the audience is intended to take.

Overall

Despite the harsh bashing that Zac and Sucker Punch have received in the media, I found this to be a very enjoyable movie that deals with tough issues in an entertaining manner. Certainly I was looking forward to this movie from the first trailer I saw, largely because attractive girls with swords/guns fighting in fantasy realms can be, for me at least, quite entertaining. Upon leaving the theatre though I realized that, while I got what I came for, I came away with so much more. While everyone’s open to their own opinions of course, and certainly you may disagree with my review after watching the film, I at least recommend you give the movie a chance.

Score: 4 out of 5

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