Friday, March 25, 2011
I Like to Watch: Sucker Punch
**Be well aware that spoilers abound ahead.**
I just got home from a midnight show of Sucker Punch and I wanted to get my thoughts down before I went to bed. Let's be straight and start off with the premise that I didn't go into the movie thinking I was seeing some great piece of art or some amazing storytelling.
This is a Zack Snyder film, and he makes very pretty, entertaining movies that don't always make logical sense or follow standard storytelling practices.
But sometimes I go to the movies to be entertained. What can I say?
If you've caught any of the trailers/commercials, you've likely been struck with the imagery of very made-up girls in fishnets, schoolgirl outfits or bustiers, and high heels shooting guns, flipping through the air, and basically kicking ass. All five of these girls (Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung, and Abbie Cornish) are extremely attractive. I feel a little silly pointing out something so obvious, but the filmmakers spend so much time on close-ups that I think they were concerned that people wouldn't notice.
Towards the end of the film when I had one more extreme close-up of Emily Browning's face I thought, "Yes, she has very full lips and striking eyes...I get it!" There's barely a moment in the film where the women aren't wearing fishnets or thigh high stockings under tiny skirts or tap pants. It's obviously meant to be titallating, but it doesn't quite work. In one respect, it's overwhelming. There's too much titallation that you can't take it seriously. Add to that the fact that there's a whole lot of Lolita imagery, the young women in overly abbreviated schoolgirl outfits, and it just becomes uncomfortable. And there's the premise that takes any titallation and throws it out the window.
Let me explain.
Emily Browning, as Babydoll (a type of nightwear/lingerie), is locked away in a mental hospital by her step-father following the death of her mother. Babydoll gets slated for a lobotomy by the orderly Blue, who seems to run the place for his own sordid needs. While there, she meets the other four girls (Blondie, Rocket, Amber, and Sweet Pea to follow the order of the actresses' names above) and works to devise a plan to break them all out before Babydoll's time runs out.
And this is when things get weird. We shift from the dirty, slimy hospital to an upscale brothel. The girls change from mental patients to prostitutes. Blue goes from being an orderly to the brothel owner/pimp. Babydoll is slated for a special customer who's "going to pluck a cherry." The filmmakers have Babydoll retreat into her imagination. Except I can't see how going from being a mental patient to being a prostitute is an improvement for a young lady. And they're treated just as poorly in the brothel as they were in the hospital; they're just dressed better...well, more provocatively.
There's a very disturbing undercurrent of abuse and rape in this movie. I wasn't quite sure if these retreats into an imaginary world were meant to represent moments where the characters were being abused. From the very beginning of the film these young girls represent nothing more than an object for men to use to slake their lust.
When Babydoll is made to dance at the brothel, she slips even further into another imaginary world. This is the world that we see in the trailers/commercials where the girls are kicking ass and blowing shit up. While I think it's very cool for girls/women to be empowered on film and have them fight and kick ass and be tough in all the ways that men are tough in movies, there's still the beginning premise of abuse and rape that makes these battles less empowering and more futile struggle against a male-dominated world. Worse yet, in the kick-ass world, the girls always start their battle after receiving advice from a man.
So the girls can't even empower themselves, they need a man to do it for them.
It seems like the movie wants to feminist, or at least pro-women, but there's so much brutal context and subcontext that it just feels like a sham. I wish it worked better in this respect. I would like to have an action movie that is pro-women and shows women being strong and kicking butt. The whole fact that the action sequences occur in Babydoll's mind while she's dancing erotically is another component that undermines what's good about the movie. In fact, her dancing is so evocative that it's used as a tool to distract men while the girls work on their plan. Babydoll doesn't represent a girl with power, she's tits and ass, not even the sum of her parts.
At the same time I can't believe that the movie was made as a satire/parody meant to thumb its nose at the sexual imagery that we're bombarded with every day on tv, in magazines, online, and everywhere else in between. Part of me wants to say that the film was entertaining to watch, but I feel like then I'm giving some sort of approval to the degredation and abuse that the young women receive in this film. And to me, that belittles the countless girls and women out there who have had to suffer abuse of one sort or another. I would rather have a whole film set in the imaginary battle world and not have any of the real world parts or brothel parts of the film.
I doubt that I'll change anyone's mind about seeing this movie. But I know that it was difficult for me to watch the film and enjoy it given its premise. I feel that using rape/abuse is a lazy way to try and drum up sympathy for a character, and often it's not treated properly to show how traumatic these events can be for the victim. It disturbs me that in this instance, that rape/abuse is then turned into sexual titallation and that these girls are clearly objectified--yes, she's kicking ass and defeating a giant man of iron, but does she have to do it in such a short skirt and heels?