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Dissecting Sucker Punch

Posted: March 27, 2011 at 9:49 pm   /   by   /   comments (6)

As you have probably seen in our reviews of Sucker Punch, Lauren and I both quite like this film, but feel like it needs to be dissected further to get to its full worth.  So that is why we are here partaking in a big spoiler filled discussion of Zack Snyder’s new film that will hopefully help you further appreciate the film as it has for us.  It could also very well tear it down at the same time in this case, so without further ado let’s get into it.


Zac: Ok, so here are my biggest issues with Sucker Punch.  One, Snyder spends 95% of the film with no stakes whatsoever.  A fantasy in a fantasy leaves the viewer asking, “why do I care what happens,” because none of what we are seeing is “real.”  Beyond this, the reveal at the end that there was an actual escape attempt going on, which was successful to a point, fails to clarify how closely the real world paralleled Baby Doll’s dream worlds.  Three of the five girls die in the fantasy world and while we discover that there was some sneaky stuff going on in the real world, we don’t know if these girls died, were injured, nothing.  While the film validates the fantasy by it being a manifestation of what really happened it confuses the viewer even further as we don’t get the confirmations of some of our main characters’ fates.

Those are the major issues, but not showing Baby Doll dance feels like a big missed opportunity. You could argue that her dancing could never be as good as the others claim it is but I feel like they could have shown it and Browning could have lived up to the hype everyone builds around it.

And the cover versions of all the songs were very hit or miss, “Where is My Mind” clearly being the worst of the bunch and borderline dreadful.

Lauren: Let me just start by saying that Zac hates women for anything more than the fat on their chests.  Okay, just kidding, but he had a fear that I would have a feminist outrage at some point so I thought I would get it out of the way early on so he isn’t just waiting for the bomb to drop later.  Now I can get down to business.

I’ll start with the lesser parts of that bit before I dive heavily into your first paragraph.  Maybe this is pulling off what I just said, but all I can say is thank God they didn’t show her dancing.  It would have been so awkward, and though I have no idea what Emily Browning’s dancing skills are like, the way the girls reacted to her made me believe that nothing we would see would live up to it.  I mean, if it can stop everyone dead in their tracks then it has to be pretty miraculous, and I think I would have just been awkwardly giggling throughout those bits.  I’ll take the dragons and samurai over that any day.

As for the music, I loved pretty much all of it and how it was integrated into the movie, and have no problems with “Where is My Mind,” though my favorite by far was “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” that greatly impacted the beauty of the opening of the film.

Agreeing with much else of what you are saying, when I came out of the film I was so frustrated by the fact that there is no way to know what the heck happened in that film since almost everything is in her mind.  I was glad to have the recap on Dr. Vera Gorski’s part, as well as the glimpses of damages done to the psych ward that hints at what really went down, but it still isn’t a lot to go on, leaving me feeling like the film was pretty empty when all is said and done.  However, when I slept on it I do appreciate what Snyder did by allowing us to interpret it as we will, adding whatever meaning we can to it.

Unfortunately this is why I think that the movie will not agree with a lot of people.  Basically I think sometimes it is nice to have a little hand holding in a film with so many levels, and I think it was definitely a missed opportunity that the movie wasn’t a little more adventurous in its editing.  One of my favorite moments in the film is when Baby Doll is dancing for the cook in the kitchen and the radio wire hits a patch of water on the ground, forcefully extracting her from her fantasy within the fantasy.  But before things get too intense for her to handle in the brothel fantasy she forces herself back down one level deeper.  This was great, and I think that her fantasies should have been fractured and broken even more to integrate brief flashes of reality into her fantasies to better represent a tormented mind that has done so much to escape (such as flashing in what I am assuming is her really being raped when she dances).  It would have given this film so much more than just a surface value in terms of looks and presentation, though it might have needed to get the R rating to do so.

As for the other girls, as much as I tried to work it out in my mind there is no way to know for sure what happened to them.  The doctor does mention that one girl got killed (or did she just say stabbed?) so there’s that, so clearly the other girls didn’t actually die because that would be pretty noteworthy.  However, because of the violence of their deaths in the brothel fantasy something has to have happened to them because that is too jarring to not have any importance.  At first I thought that maybe they too were lobotomized, especially considering that Blue shot Amber in the brain, thus symbolically representing damage done.  But I’m pretty sure Jon Hamm’s character would have said something about performing three lobotomies that day, so in the end I am just leaning towards that something happened to them to make them check out mentally.  Whether the trauma of being raped was too much for them (because Blue also makes it sound that he does that all the time to the girls at the end) or maybe they were just drugged out of their minds; whatever it is, something made them go dark.

Zac: Another interesting bit to discuss is the validity of the film’s final scene with Sweet Pea.  The fact that Scott Glen’s character appears in this scene as the bus driver seems to discredit that what we are seeing is reality.  We were told one of the girls did escape the institution, but was it Sweet Pea?  She is the narrator of the film but is she actually narrating from freedom or is this also a manifestation of Baby Doll’s mind post lobotomy?  The fact that we can accurately discern who even the escaped patient is may be maddening for some, but the ambiguity I think lends itself to the multiple interpretations of the film that can rightfully be made.

Lauren: For all we know Baby Doll never actually talked to anyone while she was there, but by the connection they made in the beginning when Baby Doll first gets to the theater and makes eye contact with Sweet Pea (while she is on stage) I am going to go with her being the one to escape.  These two things aren’t really linked in any way, but it’s all we have to go on.

As for what happens to her after she escapes I will agree with you on it being Baby Doll’s hope for how Sweet Pea’s story played out.  In addition to Glen being there the camera also stops on the boy who is getting on the bus in front of her, the same exact boy that she looked at in the trench during the Nazi zombie fantasy.  Plus as the bus pulls out they pass a sign that says something like Paradise Diner, so I am going with it being imagined.

As for the narration I can’t really remember what was said other than something about angels in the beginning because I couldn’t stop thinking that it sounded like Gwyneth Paltrow, but I really wasn’t a fan of the ending voiceover.  But maybe that is also just because I was so frustrated that they switched narrators/protagonists on me.  I had grown attached to Baby Doll as a character and in a lot of cases Sweet Pea was my least favorite, so I would have ended it completely differently.  Let’s face it; there is never a doubt that Baby Doll is the 5th item that is needed in the escape because of how Glen’s character describes how she will find it in the beginning, so I never expected her to leave, but in all honesty since the doctor says that someone escaped I really didn’t need to see Sweet Pea get on the bus at all.  I would have much preferred it to end on Baby Doll when the cop asks her if she is ok and the camera finally pans around to her face, allowing her last look of peace to say it all.

With all we have said about the fantasies making it hard to discern what really went down and the fact that Sweet Pea is the narrator, how are you choosing to interpret the few bits of reality we are shown?  I know that I had trouble deciding what the look Jon Hamm says Baby Doll gives him right before the needle goes in means.

Zac: I think the look just meant that she was lucid and aware and fine.  Hamm realized a second too late that she wasn’t someone that needs to be lobotomized and I think the final look on Baby Doll’s face is what was so discerning.  He probably expects them to just look dead to the world and the difference caused him to question things.

For the reality side of things, the stuff that is in the base level I think can all be taken as is.  I would go even further to say that all the consequences that happened to the girls in Baby Doll’s fantasies happened in the real world as well.  Hence I feel, Sweet Pea escaped, Rocket, Blondie, and Amber bit it some how, leaving Baby Doll having to make some sort of sacrifice to allow Sweet Pea’s escape.  This interpretation allows for the films fantasy elements to be taken far more literally and have stakes making everything in the film matter; even if you have to watch it again to experience that sensation.

If this is the truth than it also blankets everything with an overall level of sadness in just how hopeless it all is for them.  Even in their deepest and most outrageous fantasies they can’t escape the pain, terror, and death of their predicament, elevating their desire to escape a more urgent and futile goal.

Also, who do you think killed the Baby Doll’s sister; her or her Stepdad?

Lauren: Well, at least we know that Baby Doll can’t escape the pain through fantasy because who is to say what the other girls were really like.  Blondie could be happily coloring on the floor somewhere and Amber could be bouncing off the padded walls of a different room during all of this, which sounds fun to me.  Granted what I said above shows that this is highly unlikely, but who knows.

Which is why I think the look that Baby Doll gives to Hamm speaks volumes.  As you said she cannot escape the reality of her situation no matter how much she tries, and with the additional realization that she will be stuck in the psych hospital forever with these abusive orderlies and rapists with the blame for her sister’s murder weighing heavily on her shoulders (which I took this to be true), she just wanted it all to be over.  Hamm says something to the extent that it looked like she was begging him to lobotomize her, and I believe this is because her escape attempts both physically and mentally didn’t succeed, but the lobotomy will make it so she doesn’t care.  And as far as I can discern she gets her wish based on the final look on her face when the cop asks if she is ok.

Zac: As for baby Doll’s sis, I think it was the step dad.  The bullet she shoots went through a light then into a pipe, so it couldn’t have hit her sister, right? Plus Blue is saying something about revealing the truth when they dragged him away.  I think Baby Doll thought she killed her sister up until that last moment that Hamm comments on. A bunch of stuff flies by in Baby Doll’s head before we flash back to Hamm as he hits the lobotomizing nail, including a replay of that fateful night in the opening scene, revealing to Baby Doll it wasn’t her fault, hence why she is at peace and the look she gives Hamm’s doctor.  If Hamm did say something along the lines of, “she wanted it,” then my theory is shit out of luck I guess.

Lauren: That is definitely an interesting train of thought to ride, but I am still going to believe that it was her bullet.  For one thing, I believe Blue was just talking about revealing that her dad was paying extra to have her there and lobotomized.  He also says this post lobotomy so I think it was more for the audience to have some good news to cling to knowing that Baby Doll’s stepfather wouldn’t get away with bringing about her current state of being (with the addition of the extra fantasy of Sweet Pea getting away also slathered on).  After all, we need some good news post lobotomy considering that hammer whack was heartbreaking on its own, downright torturous when they figure out that it wasn’t even supposed to happen.  How poorly run is this place?  I mean, I know that girls are getting taken advantage of left and right, but you would think at least the doctor would have been more informed about the process of ok’ing the lobotomy.  And as for Hamm’s character, when he says that he isn’t even sure if he agrees with lobotomies (which I don’t even know if they are performed anymore except when it is the last possible option) I wanted to stab that needle in his face.  IF YOU DON’T AGREE WITH THEM DON’T PERFORM THEM!  At this point my emotions might have been getting the better of me…  And as for the flashes I think they were just to show all of the stuff that pains her so much, but will now no longer affect her any more.

Zac: I think one thing we can both agree on though is that the look of the film is fantastic.  Snyder is one of the most visually gifted directors out there right now and this doesn’t fail to disappoint.  From the amazing opening sequence (set to Lauren’s current favorite song), to the realization of all of the dream worlds and creatures, or a couple of staggering single takes.  The film is one that you won’t forget the look of anytime soon.

Lauren: [Quickly switches to a different song] I don’t know what you are talking about… But I can agree with Snyder being pretty BA in the visually stunning department, but this was the first time that at one point I started to feel a little disappointed in his usual presence.  For one thing everything felt like it was pulled from other things, as it is a compilation of what makes nerds geek out.  From the guns to the dragons to the robots, it is clear who this movie is aimed for, and I have serious doubts that this is what Baby Doll would come up with in her mind, but if you have any knowledge of my favorite things or could just take a glance at my room you would know that I was ok with that.

My biggest problem was with how it was all executed.  Don’t get me wrong, the film looks amazing and it is hard not to just want to stay among the fantasies for a while, but I was a little underwhelmed by his color palette.  All the fantasies kind of blended together for me and I had a hope that she would go to much different places, but for me the only one that really separates itself is the samurai fantasy because of the snow fall and blues.  Though each world was filled with different things, it all started to feel like I was looking at mud.  Then again, I am also red/green/brown colorblind, so I guess his use of these colors and massive amounts of shadows may have been a little too much for my eyes to handle.  It’s not that I ever expected to go hang out with the Navi or anything, but I guess in the end I would have liked it to be a little more different and not all desolate colors to give more of a feeling of hope.

Zac: So we disagree on the diversity of the film’s look as well, but I think that the film’s themes and tone can not be confused to be anything but extremely dark and disturbing; especially for a film being sold as CG action porn and not much else. Rape, torture, misogyny, forced prostitution, the repression of women, child abuse/molestation are underlying themes and actions here, but at the same time you could argue that this is a girl power film.  Who do you think this film is made for?

Lauren:  Anyone who will give it a chance.  I mean, obviously as I said earlier it is made for those who have a love or science fiction, fantasy, and action, and there are plenty of people I wouldn’t recommend it to (as was the case with Scott Pilgrim), but I don’t want to go so far as to say that only teen boy will love it.  At the same time I’m not sure if I would say this is a girl power film because I’m to the point where having a female cast kicking butt isn’t that shocking.  Granted I grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Spice Girls haven’t been played in my house for a while.  In the same right I will say that Snyder was really able to do something that didn’t seem to exploit the female body even though they were wearing leotards half the time, and maybe that is why he chose not to have her actually dance.  But whatever the case may be, he did a great job with the characters and the costumes were executed really well, and though I did get annoyed with the panty flashes in the samurai fantasy it fit perfectly with the history of Japanese art and manga, so even then I couldn’t really knock it for this choice.

Zac: Snyder is on the record that he has a longer cut of the film, 18 minutes to be exact, that will appear on Blu-ray and will include at least one musical number that was cut from the film.  The MPAA also apparently had him cut a lot of stuff for being just too dark and disturbing, not for gratuitous sex or violence.  He couldn’t get a PG-13 because his film was too dark.  I find this intriguing and it makes me wonder if that is where a lot of the supporting material to those dark underlying themes disappeared too.  Maybe Snyder pulled out of the fantasy more than just the frayed wire in water but couldn’t keep his rating if he left those disturbing bits in.  Again, this is all speculation and we will have to wait and see but I have a hunch that is where a lot of the discussion or visualization of those dark themes disappeared too.  I feel like a deeper more fluid film is waiting for us on Blu-ray.  You can tell when a film is chopped up, and while there have been far more sever cases than this, it certainly feels like Snyder didn’t quite get to put his truest cut to his vision up on the screen.

Beyond my assumptions, I would love to see what the musical numbers would add to this film.  The brothel layer feels like it is back stage at Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! and I am not the least bit surprised that this film had musical numbers.  Hell, Snyder even borrows that film’s opening with the stage curtain.

In fact, what does that opening say about the film as a whole?  Is the whole film supposed to be viewed as a Broadway musical of sorts, where instead of singing they fight ala Scott Pilgrim?  Even if they meant to have singing in Sucker Punch it would be potentially incredible to have the musical numbers and action bounce back and forth as we navigate this story; it could have made the film even more unique than it already is.

What do you hope to get out of Snyder’s director’s cut?

Lauren: Well I would of course love to have more to support all of the darker angles we are taking on it, and in all honestly would really like to see an R or unrated version of this.  The PG-13 version works, but I definitely think it could have worked much better as an R if it would allow for the themes to be furthered and if it would allow to have some of what Baby Doll is trying to escape from edited back in.  And I also kept thinking back to Moulin Rouge! in this one and really think that a musical number would fit if it doesn’t just go straight singing and dancing, but is edited into the film in a more creative way.  Granted it also depends on the tone and context of the songs.  But just think; you might get your dancing after all!

As for the curtain I really can’t say what it is supposed to represent.  Maybe to further the idea that these girls are on display for our entertainment, that everything is an illusion, that the curtain must be pealed back to get to the truth, that Snyder has a weird fascination with large swaths of fabric…

Zac: We can confirm his fabric fetish when Superman knits together his costume in his next film.

And on that note I think we will wrap things up there.  If you have seen the film and disliked it I hope this little conversation opened you up to the film a bit more.  Sucker Punch seems to be being dismissed quite quickly by a lot of people and I think we showed that doing so is a mistake.  This conversation has left both Lauren and I appreciating the film far more than when we walked out of the theater and in a world of instant gratification it is nice to know that sometimes chewing on things a bit is still the best way to go.

Go see Sucker Punch, it is a unique and interesting experience that can be enjoyed and dissected in a lot of ways. Zack Snyder has created a bizarre and dark world to dive into, don’t be afraid or too smug to jump.