|Posted by James on July 3, 2012 at 12:00 PM|
JDW: Yes ladies and gentlemen, I'm taking requests now!
I'd never seen Sucker Punch before. The trailer didn't wow me, the reviews were abysmal, and I simply had no interest. However, there was always something tugging at me, telling me I might like it if I gave it a chance. Like a voice in my head. ...A creepy voice...
TLHCG: *whispers* Sucker Punch is really not all that baaaadddd. Waaaattccchhh iiitttt. You will lliiikkkkeee iiitttttt.
JDW: ...You do realize you're just talking into a cup, right?
TLHCG: That's never going to catch on, is it?
JDW: ...Any way, That Long-Haired Creepy Guy, everyone! It was he who convinced me to give Sucker Punch a chance so we could defend it here in the hollowed halls of Stop the Hate. And you know what? ...I kinda liked it.
Don't get me wrong, the movie didn't blow my mind or anything, but it had some fun visuals and a kick ass soundtrack. Actually, Sucker Punch very much reminded me of an action version of Pink Floyd's The Wall movie.
TLHCG: Maybe, except the hammers aren't going for a walk in this one. Regardless, I find Sucker Punch to be highly underrated. Is it flawless? By all means, no. I don't believe any film is without it's nicks and scrapes, but what makes a film excellent is not it's lack of flaws, but how well the film works overall around them. I really think critics weren't willing to see this film for what it was, or could be.
JDW: I find that critics, who claim they're looking for originality, often punish movies that strive for that. I was watching the What the Flick review for this, and the big complaint was, "This doesn't seem to follow a standard story structure."
Now my big complaint about the movie was the fantasy within a fantasy bit. Emily Browning plays Babydoll. Her step-father murders her mother and tries to murder and / or rape her sister (its not clear which). In trying to save her sister, Babydoll accidentially shoots her, which gives the stepfather all the excuse he needs to stick her in an insane asylum where he bribes a corrupt nurse to schedual her for a lobotimy.
This is where it gets weird. Babydoll plans her escape, all the while projecting herself into an imagined world where she is a prisioner in a burlesque house. To get the five items she'll need to escape, she hypnotizes those around her with her dancing (which we never see). But when she starts dancing, Babydoll enters into yet another level of fantasy where she's a warrior fighting her way through giant Samurai's, Nazi zombies, old timey looking robots, and other obsitcals to achieve her objective.
Now I didn't mind the third level of fantasy, infact I thought the visuals combined with the music made for some thrilling moments. It was the second layer that bothered me. Why not just skip the whole "Babydoll imagining she's a dancer" bit and show the asylum itself?
TLHCG: On this, I think I can help. Please keep in mind that this is only my interpretation, so your mileage is no doubt going to vary. Essentially, Sucker Punch is about perception and escapism. The film serves as a satirical commentary on the sci-fi/anime/fantasy subculture, and the way women in these genres tend to be depicted. It is also a visual study in psychological withdrawl.
I feel it is important to point out, right off the bat, that this film takes place during the 1960s. Most of the elements during the fantasy fight scenes were genres just starting to take off during that time period. Tolkein, robots, Nazi experiments gone horribly wrong, and samurai flicks were all becoming hot topics. This was when geek subculture was becoming what we know it to be today. This was also when films like Godzilla (or Gojira, if you prefer), and Bruce Lee as Kato, were showing up on the big screen and on television.
In short, Babydoll's fantasy-scape is the precursor to geekdom as we today think of it. In other words, Babydoll is a psychologically repressed geek girl. She has suffered at the hands of her stepfather, lost a loved one, and seeks sanctuary inside her mind in order to cope with the trauma that awaits her in real life. Most geeks can think of at least one time in their lives when tragedy struck, and they sought solice in comics, movies, or whatever genre resonnated with them.
When the asylum becomes too much for her, Babydoll mentally paints over it with the brothel. The brothel is no less a prison, but by imagining it differently, she can cope with the horror she's trapped in. In this repainted, re-imagined world full of mobsters and sensual dances, she can think of a way out. However, even this proves insufficent, so she dives even deeper into her mind for answers. It is, in effect, the Rabbit Hole Syndrome. Things become more surreal for herself and the audience the further she goes, but it is in this chaotic landscape made from her subconscious that she finds both power, and a means to help herself.
JDW: That makes sense. To me the brothel bit is a bit much. Visually even, I think the asylum would have been more interesting. However, this is simply a quibble with the story, it didn't ruin the movie for me.
TLHCG: When the brothel transition first kicked in, I was thinking along the same lines. However, while the story was progressing, I began seeing it as the bridge between the deep subconscious level of Babydoll's mind, and the 'real' reality of the asylum. There are moments where the painted 'brothel' reality slips, and you see it as the asylum, particularly in background shots.
JDW: I pointed out that it reminded me of Pink Floyd's The Wall, and this is where the film truly shines. It's really a big music video. As with The Wall, the story is told through music. Not through people singing, but through the choice of songs. You mentioned the "rabbit hole," which is appropriate considering Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" makes an appearence.
Movies like this used to be common. The Who's Tommy, for instance. Movies that told the story through music and amazing visuals. They don't make movies like that any more, and obviously the director, Zack Snyder, was trying to bring it back.
TLHCG: I have to admit, I've long-since been a sucker for this style of storytelling, where the music and visuals replace dialogue. A look, an aside glance, can say more than whole paragraphs at times, and Sucker Punch is very clever with the way it gives you tidbits and clues this way.
Plus, the music gives you a feel for the film that dialogue alone won't. What I find so hilarious is that the people who derided this film for those very reasons are the same ones who complain about films "telling" instead of "showing." The whole point is to show you what the characters are thinking and feeling through visual clues, and letting the music carry those clues the rest of the way.
JDW: Personally, I think a lot of the backlash was geared toward Zack Snyder. People have a real love / hate thing going with that guy. Me? I love the man! I thought his Dawn of the Dead remake was fucking brilliant, 300 had its probems but was a visual delight, and Watchmen is one of my favorite movies of all time.
What I find annoying is the way people focus on Snyder's "slow down then speed up" style. ...The word in that sentence that really mattered was "style." The man has a few things that are like signatures. Many great directors have this. John Woo had the doves. Kubrick had the tracking shots. Snyder likes to slow down the action for a moment and then speed it back up.
I find nowadays that while people cry for originality in film, they punish any movie that doesn't follow cookie cutter expectations. Sucker Punch is not a cookie cutter movie, and should be applauded for that.
TLHCG: Absolutely. Defining conventions is how new art begins. This is where the avante garde becomes real.
There's another reason why this film struck a cord within me, and I wrestled for a while on whether to dig into this subject. I guess, since we've already stepped through the Looking Glass, there's no going back.
There is a simplier aspect of this film that I think gets overlooked by people. The visual effects and music kind of overshadow it, though that statement isn't intended to be taken as acidic. Babydoll starts off as a victim. She loses a mother, a sister, and is imprisoned within a short span of time. A corrupt system is willing to overlook the fact that she is innocent, and place blame on the parties responsible. The thing is, I've lived that.
Several times in the beginning of the film, where Babydoll's stepfather looks at her, sent chills up my spine. I had a stepfather myself. When I was two months old, my birth father died. Before my third birthday, my mother remarried. By the time I was starting school, he had blown through most of my mother's money, and spent us into debt. Babydoll finds strength by escaping into her mind and doing battle with her personal fears and demons. When she first arrives at the asylum, the trauma of the recent events has all but left her catatonic. While her stepfather chats with Blue about having her lobotomized, Babydoll listens, and you can tell she wants to scream. She wants to act, but cannot after what has happened.
Following the first fantasy sequence, however, she is a different person. Gone is the girl who cried while the others slept. She is determined to escape, or die trying. I know what it's like to walk down a hallway and have someone give you a death glare. I know what it's like to suffer while those that should be protecting you give their quiet consent. And I know how it feels when the only escape is into your mind. I've dived down the same rabbit hole Babydoll did, and did battle with creatures of the night and worse, because that was all I could do to hold on to some semblance of sanity. Escapism can inspire us, as well as provide us with a means of escape. I think most people here know that.
JDW: I find it really sad that people will utterly condemn a piece of art like this, because in the end movie criticism is simply opinion. Roger Ebert says something is a thumbs down, or Jeremy Jahns calls something dog shit, and people jump on the band wagon. Meantime people can be moved by that film, and when everyone calls it crap it can make you feel just awful.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Ebert, Jahns, or any other film critic is "wrong" to give their opinion. After all, that is their job. But opinion is just that. Its not fact. When people outright condemn something, unless its truly offensive, I don't see the point. Sucker Punch isn't offensive. Its about a girl finding her strength, a victim taking charge of her destiny. It moved you, made you relive and maybe even helped you sort through painful memories. As for me...well, I just thought it was a good time.
...What do you think Creepy? Are we wrong?
TLHCG: I really don't think so. People forget that, while opinion matters, it can color one's perception of something. I went into the theater, and emerged shaken, but also moved by this story of a young girl whose life was, in indirect ways, parallel with my own.
Another thing I find eye-rolling is how Sucker Punch has been condemned for being anti-feminist. This is just about the most empowering story I've ever seen. The whole subtext criticizes the people who showed up thinking they were in for a T&A fun-fest. The fact that we never see Babydoll's erotic dance number is part of that. We don't see how sexy and provocative she is. We see her as a strong, capable fighter facing danger to get the tools she needs to free herself, and be seen as a real person. I wonder if these people actually watched the film at all.
JDW: This movie is not explotive. There's no shower scene or lesbian kiss or upskirt shot. I dislike it when feminists call something "explotive" or "sexist" when really what they're saying is, "Those girls are really pretty and their clothes are flattering! How dare you!"
Again, this was not a cookie cutter movie and a lot of people who say they want originality don't. Now that doesn't mean they're wrong if they disliked Sucker Punch, but condemning it for not following "the rules" of story telling is not a very good criticism.
So in conclusion, Sucker Punch isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. However, if what drove you away from the multiplex was the reviews, you may be doing yourself a disservice. This is a solid movie and well worth a rental. Thanks for the recomendation, Creepy.
TLHCG: Thanks for having me, James, and it was a pleasure being here. I hope we get to do this again sometime.